WASHINGTON - Goalie Jose Theodore was benched for Game 2 of the Washington Capitals' first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers on Saturday, with rookie Simeon Varlamov making his NHL post-season debut.
The 20-year-old Varlamov made only six appearances for Washington in the regular season, with five starts. His record was 4-0-1.
Theodore signed a US$9-million, two-year contract as a free agent last off-season and went 32-17-5. He was the NHL's MVP in 2002.
When Varlamov was the last member of the Capitals lineup introduced before Saturday's game, the crowd responded with the loudest roars it delivered for any of the team's starters.
Also on Saturday, Rangers captain Chris Drury returned after missing Game 1 with an undisclosed injury. Capitals defenceman Jeff Schultz sat out with an upper body injury, while Brian Pothier was back in the lineup after sitting out the first game of the playoffs.
Theodore took the blame for Washington's 4-3 loss to New York in Game 1 on Wednesday, when he allowed four goals on only 21 shots.
Immediately after that game, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn't rule out the possibility of making a goalie switch.
Asked that night whether he considered going with Varlamov in the third period after Theodore gave up three goals in the second, Boudreau said: "You never want to look like you're panicking, and that's what that would have looked like."
In the days between Games 1 and 2, the NHL's reigning coach of the year was coy about who he would put in the net, refusing to come out and say which goalie would get the start. He did note, however, that "Theo's our No. 1 goalie."
He informed the two players of his decision after practice Friday, but it wasn't until Varlamov took more of the work during pre-game warmups Saturday that it seemed clear to everyone else.
Shortly before the opening face-off, Varlamov skated over to the Capitals bench, where Theodore was sitting, wearing a baseball cap instead of a mask. They chatted briefly, then Theodore stayed put, and Varlamov took his place in front of the goal.