WASHINGTON - A surprising switch to a rookie goalie did not prevent Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals from losing 1-0 and falling into a two-game hole against the New York Rangers.
Then again, if New York and Henrik Lundqvist keep silencing Ovechkin, it might not matter who's in the net for Washington.
Ryan Callahan spoiled Simeon Varlamov's NHL post-season debut by scoring on New York's second shot Saturday, and Lundqvist made 35 saves, leading the seventh-seeded Rangers to the victory over the second-seeded Capitals and a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
It was Lundqvist's third career playoff shutout.
Game 3 is Monday in New York, and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau will have to decide whether to stick with Varlamov or go back to Jose Theodore.
Ovechkin led the NHL in goals each of the past two seasons, but he is yet to score during this series. Shadowed principally by Michal Rozsival on Saturday, the reigning league MVP had at least a half-dozen shots blocked before the puck even reached Lundqvist. After one open attempt from the slot sailed over the goal late in the third period, Ovechkin put a glove to his face and threw his head back.
While the Rangers feel good about having Lundqvist in net, it's rare to have "Who's the starting goalie?" questions so early in a playoff series. But 2002 NHL MVP Theodore allowed four goals on 21 shots when Washington lost 4-3 in Game 1. Boudreau played coy during the off-days about who would get the start, and the intrigue lasted until Varlamov took the bulk of the time in net during pregame warmups.
Varlamov made merely his sixth career NHL start. A first-round draft pick in 2006, the 20-year-old Russian began this season in the minors, playing for the Capitals for the first time in December. With the team's top veteran backup goalie, Brent Johnson, sidelined after having hip surgery in February, Washington entered the playoffs with Theodore and Varlamov as Boudreau's options.
Varlamov had his "Welcome to the Playoffs" moment about five minutes in, when Sean Avery plowed through the top of the crease and the goalie used his stick and pads to send the noted agitator to the ice.
Not much later, Varlamov allowed his first post-season goal. Washington's Mike Green, who led all NHL defencemen in goals and points, got caught up in an attack, and when Ovechkin's cross-ice pass went between two teammates, the Rangers were able to rush the other way.
Capitals defenceman Tom Poti was left pretty much all alone, and Markus Naslund deked him before sliding a pass to Callahan. With no one to beat but Varlamov, Callahan lifted a shot over the goalie's glove to make it 1-0 a little more than 7 1/2 minutes into the game.
After that, Varlamov was solid, making 23 saves. Pressured by Avery early in the third period, Varlamov wound up on his stomach and then his back while protecting the net and keeping it a one-goal game.
Lundqvist gave up rebounds, but the Capitals just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to convert. One good chance was wasted in the first period, when Lundqvist blocked a shot by Ovechkin, and the puck squirted right to Viktor Kozlov, who shot wide.
Kozlov, sent to the penalty box twice in a 2 1/2-minute span, had another close-range chance in the second period, but his backhander hit Lundqvist in the pads.
Saturday's first four penalties were called against Washington, including a hooking call on Green in the second period - when Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev fell after seemingly getting tangled in his own skates - that had Boudreau yelling and cursing.
After Game 1, both coaches engaged in a bit of gamesmanship, questioning whether the officiating was even. New York's John Tortorella thought some "tying up and kicking" by the Capitals helped them win 70 per cent of face-offs Wednesday. Boudreau, for his part, thought the Rangers should have been called for more penalties.
Asked before Saturday's game about Tortorella's face-off comments, Boudreau did not hold his tongue.
"It's actually pretty lame, quite frankly," Boudreau said. "I talked to the league, and the league said they're perfectly legal. So, I mean, he's just crying right now. A dumb thing to cry about."
Boudreau continued: "We're told not to do this, and he's trying to play the game and chip and get the referees on their side and that's fine. They'll probably do better on face-offs today. And so what am I supposed to do, cry? We've never had 70 per cent all year. So we had one good day on face-offs. Give us a break."
Notes: Capitals D Brian Pothier played Saturday after sitting out Game 1. D Jeff Schultz is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. ... Rangers captain Chris Drury played after being scratched Wednesday. ... Just as in Game 1, Washington built a significant advantage in first-period shots. The discrepancy was 14-4 Wednesday, 13-6 Saturday.