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Theodore makes his case to be Caps' playoff starter

by Corey Masisak
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jose Theodore has not lost in regulation in 82 days. But after a couple of nights when his play wasn't up to the high standard he had set, his job security was again a topic of discussion in Washington.

Theodore answered his doubters in a big way on Saturday night by stopping 34 of 36 shots and carrying the Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets despite the team's propensity for yielding scoring chances in front of him.

"I am happy with the way the game went. I wanted a lot of scoring chances so I could really get back to feeling the puck and making the big saves," Theodore said. "All the details that me and [goaltending coach Arturs Irbe] worked on really paid off because there were a lot of plays that were those kinds of plays."

Theodore is now 18-0-3 since a regulation loss Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay, but he was not at his best in the previous two games. The 33-year-old yielded three goals on 10 shots before being pulled against Calgary last Sunday and allowed five on 31 shots in an overtime loss against Ottawa two nights later.

The defense in front of him was suspect in both games, but eight goals in two games – combined with a 19-for-20 performance by Semyon Varlamov against Atlanta – may have opened the door for some to question Washington's plans in net for the playoffs..

Theodore had the big bounce back game he was looking for on Saturday.

"I don't feel like my game was that way off against Ottawa – just some technical details and some balance issues. That's sometimes the difference when you have three, four goals against you," Theodore said. "When you feel good about your game, you know you might have some bad games but you just have to work around it. It is more about making sure that stretch doesn't last too long and it was good to be back in the net and back on the winning track.

"I've been feeling pretty good about my game the past few months – as good as I've felt in many years."

The questions about Theodore stem from the end of last season. He was Washington's No. 1 goalie for the majority of the season, and the Capitals entered the postseason with him as their starter.

That lasted all of one game. Bruce Boudreau turned to the largely untested Varlamov for Game 2 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers after a 4-3 loss in Game 1. Varlamov became a sensation, helping the Caps rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rangers in seven games and leading the Capitals within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Varlamov was great again at the beginning of this season, but he missed two months because of multiple injuries and has not been as consistent since returning. Meanwhile, save for the previous two contests before Saturday night, Theodore has been steady and sometimes spectacular for the Capitals.

He is also two wins shy of reaching 30 for the fourth time in his career -- Washington has four games remaining this season.

"I think when you've been there and done that [with 30 wins] it is not that big of a deal," Theodore said. "Being first overall – that is something that I haven't achieved before and I think it is really a big achievement. That is something that in my mind I am going to take a lot of pride in."

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