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Theodore makes case to be Caps' playoff starter

by Dan Rosen
WASHINGTON -- Jose Theodore wouldn't say he's feeling better now than he has since winning the Hart Trophy eight years ago, but his numbers over the last 10 weeks would suggest that is most definitely the case.

Theodore made 39 saves through 65 minutes and two more in the shootout Wednesday to help the Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was the goalie's seventh straight win and improved his franchise-record streak for consecutive games without a regulation loss to 19.

Since Jan. 13, Theodore is a remarkable 17-0-2 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. During his current 7-0-0 run, his GAA is 1.95 and save percentage an impressive .937.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau still won't name Theodore his starter for the playoffs, but you can definitely tell he's leaning in that direction. Boudreau said prior to Wednesday's game he is thinking about starting Theodore again Thursday in Carolina because it'll be the first time he will start him in back-to-back games since Nov. 6-7.

If that's not a clear sign the coach has Theodore in mind for his Game 1 starter next month, what is?

"The team is playing well and I am feeling really good out there so I am trying to do the same thing game in and game out," Theodore said. "Guys are scoring big goals and everything is gelling together right now, which is good."

Theodore was especially impressive in the first period Wednesday when the Penguins were pressing to get the first goal. He made 17 saves, deflecting a lot of the rebounds into the corners, to keep the game scoreless heading into the second period.

Maxime Talbot beat him with a deflection goal and Bill Guerin scored a power-play goal off a 2-on-1 in the second to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead. Jordan Staal ripped a shot from the right circle over Theodore's right shoulder late in the third to tie the game.

Theodore didn't like that goal, and he was especially frustrated after both Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby beat him in the first two rounds of the shootout.

"They were good plays, but when you're down 2-0 in a shootout usually it doesn't look good," Theodore said. "But we have so much skill that we didn't panic. I knew if I could make a couple of saves we'd get the goal and that's what we did."

After Alex Ovechkin got the Caps on the board in the competition, Theodore stopped Guerin. Alexander Semin tied the shootout and then Theodore gave Mike Knuble a chance to win it by making a save on Chris Kunitz.

Knuble did his job by beating Marc-Andre Fleury for his first career shootout goal.

"I think he saved us most of the time this game," Ovechkin said of Theodore. "I think we didn't play our game at all. Jose keeps us in the game and it's nice when we can win when we don't play well."

Boudreau said Theodore is "playing great" and Nicklas Backstrom added that if Theodore continues to play this way, the Capitals should be able to go a long way in the playoffs.

Theodore, though, didn't seem in the mood to rehash his recent success.

"I think he saved us most of the time this game.  I think we didn't play our game at all. Jose keeps us in the game and it's nice when we can win when we don't play well." -- Alex Ovechkin
Why should he? He doesn't want to jinx himself, not when he's winning the job as the Capitals' No. 1 goalie.

Remember, he was the Caps' starter in Game 1 last season, but after giving up four goals in a loss to the New York Rangers, Boudreau turned to Semyon Varlamov. Theodore was an afterthought until Varlamov stumbled badly in Game 7 against the Penguins.

"I had some stretches where I was feeling pretty good, but it's just a fun time right now toward the end of the season," Theodore said. "I'm getting the wins, and I feel I'm playing the way I should play every game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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