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Caps rookie beats Habs 2-1 in NHL debut

by Brian Compton /
Michal Nylander ended his scoring drought in dramatic fashion on Saturday night.

The Washington Capitals center, who hadn't scored in almost two months, broke a tie with 2:32 remaining in regulation, lifting the Caps to a 2-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Nylander's goal made a winner of goaltender Simeon Varlamov in his NHL debut. Varlamov -- who replaced Washington's Web site producer Brett Leonhardt on the bench late in the first period on Friday -- played Saturday in place of Brent Johnson and made 32 saves for the victory.

''He won the game for us tonight,'' said Caps forward Alexander Ovechkin, who got his 40th point of the season earlier in the game.

Varlamov, a 20-year-old Russian, was the Caps' first-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft and had been playing with Hershey in the AHL before his recall after Jose Theodore was injured in the morning skate on Friday.

Though there was a translator in the locker room after the game, Varlamov's smile said it all — as did the celebratory banana cream pie in the face he received from Alex Ovechkin.

"It was great for me and I was really focused before the game," he said. "It was really tough out there, but we won the game and that’s great. I wanted to win tonight 100 percent because the first time I played in Russia, I won my first game. When I played for Team Russia I won my first game, and now I won my first NHL game too and that's special. Alex got me with the pie because he's a funny guy."

The celebration was made possible by Nylander, who was robbed by Jaroslav Halak's glove in the second period but got even when he banked a shot off Halak's pads from behind the goal line for his third goal of the season.

''I just tried to get it on the net because he was off his post a bit,'' said Nylander, who hadn't scored since Oct. 16 at Pittsburgh.

Montreal peppered Varlamov with 14 shots in the third period, but the Caps' goalie stopped them all. The Canadiens also went 0-for-7 on the power play, which included a four-minute advantage in the first after Ovechkin got his stick up high on Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos.

''Our power play is nonexistent because we get outworked by the opposition,'' Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. ''We have an advantage and we don't take advantage of that. That's the bottom line.''

Nicklas Backstrom took advantage of a Capitals' power play in the first period, as he tallied his 10th goal of the season at 10:19. Just nine seconds after Josh Gorges was sent to the penalty box, Backstrom banged home Ovechkin's rebound to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Backstrom was one of three Washington players who was forced to leave the game due to injury. The Capitals also lost Sergei Fedorov and Tyler Sloan.

''We only dropped two or three guys, so we were OK, it was an easy night,'' joked Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who has had to juggle his lineups throughout the season and had no updates on the team's latest injuries. ''I haven't heard. I'm afraid to go into that room any time."

Patrice Brisebois tied the game for the Canadiens with 4:35 remaining in the second period. With the teams at even strength, Brisebois took a pass from Alex Tanguay and fired a slap shot from the right circle that beat Varlamov to the far side to make it 1-1. It was his third goal of the season and his second in as many games.

Varlamov got a bit of help in his first appearance, as Tanguay hit the post twice. Alex Kovalev also struck iron moments before Nylander's goal. Obviously, luck was on the rookie's side.

"As soon as they missed all those chances I said, 'You know what, it's in the books, right now. It's meant to be that we're going to get lucky and we're going to score one.' And it happened, I think, on the next shift," Boudreau said.

Washington then stepped up its defensive game and did not allow the Habs to get a shot on goal in the closing minutes.

"We need everyone to play 60 minutes and play together," Canadiens forward Steve Begin said. "We just can't play and see what happens. That's not going to work. Everyone has to crank it up a notch or two. We have to wake up"

With Saku Koivu out due to a lower-body injury, Kovalev wore the captain's ''C'' for Montreal. Mathieu Dandenault and Christopher Higgins were lost to injury in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Calgary. Dandenault is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery on Wednesday on his broken left arm, while Higgins is out due to an unspecified upper-body injury.

Kovalev had just two shots on goal in 21:13 of ice time, while Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn combined for just one shot.

"We keep saying that we have chances … we have to find a way to bury them," Carbonneau said. "I don't care how. We can't teach scoring. They have to find a way to do it. At the end of the day, the name of the game is to score goals. You can't just keep scoring one goal and hoping to be successful in this League. We have guys that need to do that for us. We need our best players to be our best players every night."

While Nylander's goal proved to be the game-winner and ended a 27-game goal-less drought, he knew full well who the No. 1 star of the night was.

"He played unbelievable in his first game. It's great, outstanding," Nylander said of Varlamov's performance. "He played great in the second and the rest of the way."

Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report.

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