Until Washington Capitals
coach Bruce Boudreau
watched the game again Tuesday morning he didn't fully grasp how good goalie Semyon Varlamov
was in the first period Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens
Varlamov made point-blank stops on Michael Cammalleri
, Brian Gionta
and Benoit Pouliot
to preserve a scoreless tie through 20 minutes. He came up with 10 saves in the period, and, according to defenseman Mike Green
, sapped some life out of the wild crowd.
Buoyed by Varlamov's scintillating first period, the Capitals needed only 8:33 in the second to drive a stake right through the Canadiens, scoring three goals in that span. In all, Washington had four unanswered goals in the second period en route to a 5-1 domination of the home team in Game 3.
Varlamov, the 21-year-old replacement for Jose Theodore
, was the game's first star with 27 saves.
"When your goalie stands on his head like that it makes you more comfortable and everybody kind of settles down," Green said. "I think 'Varly' took the crowd out of it when he made those saves. They didn't have much momentum after that. He deflated the whole atmosphere and then we were just able to play the game."
The Capitals have seen this from Varlamov before. A year ago, he stepped in for an ineffective Theodore after the first game of the first round and was brilliant until he ran out of steam in the back end of the second-round series against Pittsburgh.
Varlamov, who turns 22 in a week, is a year older now and instead of having just six games of NHL experience behind him like he did before the playoffs last season, he entering this spring with 32 games, plus 13 more in the postseason, under his belt.
Boudreau still believes the Capitals are going to need both Varlamov and Theodore to go the distances this spring -- and he's probably right -- but it's become all too obvious now which goaltender has the necessary ice water running through his veins.
Theodore has been pulled from four of his last seven postseason starts and hasn't won a playoff game since he played for Colorado in 2008. Varlamov has won nine playoff games in the past calendar year and has stopped 45 of 49 shots since replacing Theodore less than halfway through Game 2 Saturday.
"The biggest thing for him is it doesn't matter what is going on around him; his job is to stop the puck and he just does his job," Capitals defenseman Tom Poti
said. "He's not fazed by the crowd or anything. He just goes about his job and stops the puck."
Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom
believes the language barrier that separates Varlamov from the media and a lot of the fans plays a major part in his postseason success.
"He doesn't care what the people are saying around him, so he just focuses on his game," Backstrom told NHL.com. "Goalies are always more focused than skaters, they are more in their bubble, but he's the guy who focuses by himself, doesn't talk a lot and that's good."
Both Boudreau and Backstrom stressed how serious of a person Varlamov is.
"If you talk to him he talks to you, but he's a quiet guy," Backstrom said. "Even if he would know English he'd be quiet. He's a focused, serious guy and that's good. We need that right now."
The Capitals definitely needed Varlamov's focus in the first period Monday. The Canadiens were propped up by the incredible crowd and were flying right off the opening faceoff.
Varlamov had to stop Cammalleri's sharp backhand from the slot just 53 seconds into the game. Eight minutes later Gionta came down the wing and fired a rocket from inside the right circle that Varlamov had to stop. And, later in the period Pouliot had a wide open one-timer from right in front that looked like a sure goal, but Varlamov went across the crease, down into his butterfly and made the stop with his chest.
"I think that was the best I've seen him in a long time," Boudreau said.
The saves gave the Capitals confidence that their goalie was on. Considering what happened in the previous game, when Theodore allowed goals on the first two shots he faced before getting pulled, Varlamov's play was ultra important.
"Any time we try to play it safe it doesn't work out for us, so we knew that Varly was on and we could move the puck and get up ice and create chances," Green said. "When you have that confidence in your goaltender you're not worried about the puck coming the other way, and usually it doesn't because you are confident."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl