Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
was still toiling in the minors when Jose Theodore
won the Hart and Vezina Trophies eight years ago, so he didn't have much of a vision of what his goalie was like back then.
Tuesday night, Boudreau saw glimpses of what he missed during his AHL days.
Theodore turned aside 44 of 46 shots to preserve an unlikely and somewhat improbable 3-2 victory over Detroit at Verizon Center. It was the most saves Theodore has made in a Capitals uniform and the most he's made in a regular season game since Dec. 12, 2003.
"That's probably the best I've seen him," Boudreau said. "I'm watching him going, 'This must've been how he was when he won the Vezina and the Hart in Montreal that year,' because without him it could very well have been 6-0 at the end of the first period."
Theodore was that good, which is why he was an easy choice as the game's first star.
He kept the Capitals in a game they really had no business winning by stopping 15 shots in the first period, another 15 in the second and 14 more in the third. He kept the League's best offense within striking distance of two points, and the Caps pounced in the third period with goals from Nicklas Backstrom
and David Steckel
separated by 46 seconds.
"We had some clear-cut chances," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom
said. "(Theodore) got two points for them tonight."
It was exactly the effort the Capitals needed from their goalie Tuesday night and the type of effort the Capitals may need from Theodore down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Theodore was relegated to backup duty for nearly a month because rookie Michal Neuvirth
was playing so well, but with Neuvirth failing to make it through his last two starts and fellow rookie Semyon Varlamov
still out with a groin injury, Theodore is again the man in D.C.
He's playing like it.
"I always say it's a long season and you have to pique at the right time," Theodore said.
Theodore has started three straight games and has won the last four, allowing only six goals against 123 shots.
He came in relief of Neuvirth in Florida last week and stopped all 15 shots he faced as the Capitals came back for a 5-4 shootout win. He then made 28 saves in a 6-1 win over Toronto and 30 saves in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia before stopping a season-high 44 shots Tuesday night.
"I just felt my legs, my quickness and my reflexes were up to par," Theodore said. "It's a good feeling. I just have to make sure I keep it going."
Theodore knows what its like to lose his job to a rookie for a short while. He was benched after one game in last season's playoffs and never got in again as Varlamov was excellent in leading the Caps to Game 7 of the conference semifinals against Pittsburgh.
This time it was Neuvirth, not Varlamov, who took Theodore's job after the goalie gave up three goals on 20 shots in a loss in Vancouver on Dec. 18.
Theodore, though, acted like a true pro throughout Neuvirth's run and never stopped working. In fact, he said he worked twice as hard as normal to make sure when he got another chance he was ready.
"When you don't play, if you're easy on yourself and you don't work twice as hard, when you do get the chances it's just not going to happen for you," Theodore said. "I'm aware that if I want to play and play the way I expect myself to play I have to work hard. So when I wasn't playing I was working twice as hard just to be able to make sure when I got the chance I'd be up for the challenge."
Varlamov is skating and appears to be close to returning from his groin injury that has sidelined him since early December. Then again, if Theodore continues down his current path, it may be a while before Varlamov sees some game action.
"Right now I'm feeling pretty good," Theodore said. "The first month I felt pretty good and then I had a little letdown, but I have worked hard and it's paying off. I have to keep doing the same things to make sure I can do it on a consistent basis."