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Capitals-Rangers Preview

NEW YORK (AP) Simeon Varlamov is a man of few words - especially the English kind.

The surprise top goalie for the awakening Washington Capitals is a virtual unknown to not only the NHL, but to his coach, his teammates, and anyone else who doesn't speak Russian.

"Seven games. That's how well I know him," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday of the 20-year-old rookie with limited experience. "He is a really quiet young man.

"I don't know if he is mature beyond his years because my level of communication with him is patting him on the butt or saying, 'Go get 'em."'

Yet, Boudreau - finishing his first full season as an NHL head coach - took the big risk of throwing Varlamov into the pressure cooker. After Jose Theodore's poor performance in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, Varlamov took over.

He allowed a goal on the second shot he faced and nothing else. The one that got away was enough to cost him and the Capitals another loss, but also earned him another chance to start.

Not shaken, Varlamov strode on Monday night into Madison Square Garden - where the Rangers had won eight of nine - turned aside all 33 shots he faced and led Washington to a 4-0 win that cut the Capitals' series deficit to 2-1.

They can get even in the best-of-seven series in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

"He has been good these two games and hopefully we can play the same way," said forward Nicklas Backstrom, who had three assists in Game 3. "We tried to help him as good as we can.

"I heard from some guys that he was really good last year in the Russian league. He took his team to the finals. When I heard that, then the game (Monday) was not a surprise. He is focusing on his game, and that's good."

Outside of a few directional words exchanged between himself and his defensemen, Varlamov relies on Russian teammates to serve as interpreters.

"You don't have a conversation with your goalie out there too often," defenseman Shaone Morrisonn said. "I think it's pretty simple, the communication either with him or Jose. We just have to be tight for whoever is in net and be solid defensively."

Varlamov has avoided the spotlight and the crush of reporters who want to get inside his head to find out how someone so young with only six games of NHL regular-season experience can step onto the biggest stage and perform superbly.

Maybe that is one reason for his early success. Varlamov went 4-0-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average in the regular season, and got glowing reports from his performances in the Russian league, at the world championship, and his stint with Hershey of the AHL.

"Bruce deserves full credit because I would not have made that switch, initially," Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior said. "I think as a goaltender you want to be able to come back and be able to demonstrate that you're better than what you gave us. And I understand that totally.

"I told Varly that had it been up to me I would have put Theo back in. He understands that and why. He would hope I would do the same for him if he was in that position."

Boudreau leaves the talking with Varlamov up to Prior and the Russians on the team. He told star forward Alex Ovechkin to pass along the news to Varlamov that he would be starting again in Game 3.

Boudreau doesn't know how Varlamov was informed, and wasn't really concerned about it. With 56 saves on 57 shots in two games, as long as his play keeps up the No. 2 seeded Capitals will be pleased.

Coming into the series, the seventh-seeded Rangers were the decided underdogs, but New York owned a clear advantage in goal where three-time Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lundqvist never has to worry about his starting status.

While Varlamov could be considered a good surprise, the Capitals aren't yet ready to say they've closed the gap on Lundqvist, who beat them 1-0 in Game 2.

"It's two games compared to a finalist for the Vezina," Boudreau said. "Hopefully, someday three or four years down the road, Varly is in that situation. Right now he's a young goalie that the Rangers haven't seen before so they didn't know him. Lundqvist is an All-Star.

"I like our guy, but he's not in that class yet."

Maybe not, but he and Lundqvist each have a shutout in the series, and now it's the Rangers who are dealing with a drought of 112 minutes, 16 seconds without a goal.

"It was probably one of our better games in generating offense, and offensive-zone time," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Game 3. "They defended well when we had opportunities to make the next play. We've spent more time in their end zone, but we forgot about the other end, and we need to have 'em both work.

"We're just trying to play. (Varlamov) is playing well, Hank's playing well and we need to get a big play at a key time."

Rangers captain Chris Drury, believed to be nursing an injury to his hand or wrist, played very sparingly in the third period of Game 3. He practiced Tuesday and expects to be in the lineup Wednesday.

"Every game it's better," Drury said. "Whatever minutes I get I'm going to do the best I can with it and do whatever I can to help us win.

"Obviously, I'd like to be doing more, helping us win more. ... The best I can say it is it's day to day. That's how we're playing it."



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