Miracle save by Varlamov ignites Caps

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- They won't be butchering Simeon Varlamov's first name any more.

Not if he keeps making saves like this one.

Just 24 hours before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals' rookie goalie was schooling the media on how to say his name correctly.

"I will change the spelling," Varlamov said through an interpreter at the Caps practice facility on Friday. "And I also want to tell you guys to accent it properly. It's not 'SIM-e-un.' It's Sim-YOHN."

Believe this: Any more highlight reel stops like the one that spearheaded the Caps to a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday, and he will become a household name in these parts.

Maybe he already is.

In what could be a defining moment in this series -- and, more importantly, his career -- Varlamov made the save of the year with two minutes remaining in the second period and the score deadlocked at 2-2.

Off Sidney Crosby, no less. What do you think the Vegas odds would be on such a matchup? Sidney Crosby, superstar, versus Simeon -- or is that Simyon? -- Varlamov, the kid the Caps turned to as a last-ditch effort to replace the struggling Jose Theodore after the first game of the playoffs.

But as Crosby accepted a Chris Kunitz pass on a 2-on-1 and directed the puck at a wide open Capitals net, Varlamov, ridiculously out of position, lunged with his stick and swiped the puck off the goal line.

"(Kunitz) drove wide, put the puck across," Crosby said. "I reached for it but didn't get too much on it."

Crosby immediately put his hands up, a gesture many in the red-clad throng of 18,277 considered to be a premature goal celebration. Not so, Crosby claimed.

"No. I wanted to make sure they checked (the video) upstairs. I knew his stick was awfully close to the goal line.

"When you have an open net like that in a 2-2 tie, don't score, then end up losing 3-2, it's easy to say 'what if ...' But you have to forget about it."

Crosby was asked if it was the best save a goalie had ever made off him.

"No. And I choose not to remember any of them. You have to forget about it."

On the other hand, it is a stop that Varlamov won't forget for a long time.

"I'd say yes, it's one of the best, especially when you consider the kind of game it was, the NHL playoffs," Varlamov said. "I haven't made any saves like that before."

Who has?

"And the way the game went, it was a very important save because the score was 2-2. If they score the third goal, you don't know how it would go on," he added.

Instead, the save allowed the Caps the opportunity to claim the win on Tomas Fleischmann's game-winner at 1:46 of the third period.

Of course, not everything was rosy on this night. Just minutes before he thwarted Crosby, Varlamov had allowed Mark Eaton's stoppable shot from the point to elude him, a goal that tied the game at 2-2.

"That goal was just my mistake that's all," he said.

In a series billed as Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin, both superstars scored a goal, with Ovechkin chipping in an assist on the winner. But as well as both performed, this was not about them.

This was about Varlamov, whose increasing fame has locals referring to his meteoric rise as: "From Russia with Glove."

That about says it all.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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