Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Changing the (Hot) Goalie Conversation

Remember two whole days ago, when normally ‘tism-centered Tom Boswell bemoaned the Caps’ “April Curse” of running into that dreaded playoff nemesis, the “hot goalie”? Oh, Henrik Lundqvist was the absolute worst the Caps had ever seen, having not won the Vezina three times and being the latest to inevitably join playoff tormenters with names like Wregget, Barasson, Hextall, etc.

That looks to be changing, and maybe now it is a Washington Capitals opponent who will have to deal with the phenomenon that we Caps’ fans have been forced to suffer for so many past (emphasize past) playoff series.

Let’s be honest: how many Rangers’ fans and members of the New York media were salivating, absolutely drooling uncontrollably and thinking things like “desperation” and “easy series win” when it was announced, shortly before Game 2, that rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov would be taking over netminding duties for the Capitals? Why, a win in that very Game 2 must have re-enforced the notion that the Caps had taken their last, best shot and failed, they were done, they had pulled out all the stops and were still defeated. Bring on the Bruins in the second round, right?

As we know by now, that Game 2, one-goal-allowed performance by Varlamov was merely a precursor to the shocker at the Garden last night, the sublime shutout performance (despite the best efforts at jinxing throughout the entire third period by the Rangers’ broadcast team) by the not-legal-drinker who apparently already knows how to ignore/enrage Sean Avery. The goaltending future of the Capitals arrived a year or two earlier than forecast last night, and it could not bode more well for this team’s current playoff run.

Sure, it’s two games against the Rangers, with their flaccid scoring rate of 2.56 goals per game in the regular season and their holding of the distinction of being the only NHL playoff team with a negative goal differential (210 for, 218 against). But it counts. It doubly counts because Varly pitched a shutout in “the world’s most famous arena” (as MSG always reminds us), and was un-intimidated by those suddenly boastful Rangers’ fans who crowded behind every MSG announcer and in front of every MSG camera to chant nonsense like “sweep” prior to Game 3.

It’s now the young Russian’s series. He now boasts more gaudy numbers than the vaunted King Henrik. While DCO may admittedly be a blog more geared towards (positive) emotion than cold hard statistics, let’s take a look at the latter in the series thus far to shake things up perhaps just this once, or whenever it serves the cause of DC-sports-related optimism.

Save Percentage
Varlamov: .982
Lundqvist: .936

Goals Against Average
Varlamov: 0.50
Lundqvist: 2.33

It’s a different game, and a different series now. We look forward to numerous reports from Washington and national media declaring that there is a new hot goalie in the NHL playoffs, and that he minds the pipes for the Capitals, seeking to put to rest yet another playoff demon. The King is dead. Long live the Czar.

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