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Theodore already under the playoff microscope

by Dan Rosen
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Whether Washington Capitals' goalie Jose Theodore truly did suffer a stinger from a slap shot Wednesday, or if he just wanted to get out of the dressing room before the French speaking media marched in looking for him, we will probably never know.

What we do know is that starting Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN, RDS), Theodore will not be able to hide again in these playoffs, and especially in Washington's first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Laval, Quebec native and former Habs' goalie was officially named by coach Bruce Boudreau Tuesday as the Caps' No. 1 for the playoffs -- and not just Game 1 like last season. Theodore hasn't lost in regulation since Jan. 12 (20-0-3), but fair or unfair, he's still the Capitals' biggest question mark heading into the postseason.

Until he proves otherwise -- and that could start to happen as early as Thursday -- Theodore will be the most scrutinized guy "Rocking the Red."

"For myself, it doesn't really change the approach. The nets are the same size the puck is the same size. I've been around." -- Jose Theodore on playing the Montreal Canadiens

"It's kind of been the case all year of people saying, 'They're good, but this is where they are weak,' " Capitals right wing Mike Knuble said of the Caps' goaltending. "When people are looking for an angle they try to pick you apart and I guess you could do that for any team, try to find a weak spot. It just matters what our players think. Hopefully we play good in front of him because then he doesn't have to win games for you, he just has to make the saves he's supposed to make."

Theodore deserves mountains of credit for thriving in what had to be the most difficult season of his career.

His two-month old son passed away in August from premature birth complications and he took a leave of absence from the team for one game in November so he could go home and deal with some family issues.

Theodore was still one of only five goalies in the Eastern Conference this season with 30 wins. During his 20-0-3 stretch he had a .922 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average.

"A lot of people counted me out when the season started for different reasons," Theodore said. "It was a big challenge for me just to have a solid season pretty much since training camp."

From the beginning, Theodore has been saying his focus this season is as strong as it's been since his MVP season with the Canadiens in 2002. He has, as Knuble said, earned the right to be the Capitals' No. 1 goalie, but can he sustain it?

Does Theodore have enough toughness to morph into a clutch postseason goalie at 33-years-old?

He's 19-27 in his playoff career with a 2.79 GAA. He started for the Caps in Game 1 against the New York Rangers last season, but gave up four goals on 25 shots and didn't play again until mop-up time in Game 7 against Pittsburgh in the next round.

"He's been a guy that's said from the beginning, 'OK, last year was last year. If I have to prove myself I've proved myself my whole life,' " Boudreau said. "He's going to be prove himself again. He did it in the face of a lot of adversity this year. I give him full credit for everything he's done."

We'll know quickly about Theodore's mental toughness.

It's not as if the Canadiens are bringing magic sticks into this series, but it's also not like Theodore has been magical against his former team since he left via a trade in 2006 to Colorado.

He gave up 8 goals on 36 shots in his first game back at Bell Centre as a member of the Avalanche on Oct. 21, 2006. He didn't play there again until two months ago, when he allowed 4 goals on 25 shots in relief of Michal Neuvirth.

Theodore has at least won both of his starts against Montreal at Verizon Center, including a shutout on Nov. 28, 2008.

"For myself, it doesn't really change the approach," Theodore said of playing the Habs. "The nets are the same size the puck is the same size. I've been around."

If Washington wants to stick around in this postseason, Theodore will probably have to win at least one game in Montreal and he'll have to be great wherever else this journey might take the Capitals.

Boudreau has no doubts because Theodore has so many reasons to be great.

"It's an often asked question (about the goaltending), but it's the last year of his contract and every player wants to play the best in his last year, especially when you get over 30 so you show everybody that you're not done," Boudreau said. "He's done that all year. This is a mindset he's had all year. He's a determined guy and you don't get to the lofty positions that he's shared in the National Hockey League by not having a tremendous amount of pride."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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