Yesterday, Simeon Varlamov became a household name in NHL circles as the fifth member of The Russian Five v.2009 (contra v.1980s and v.1997 and, of course, v.1862) became the youngest visiting netminder to ever whitewash the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and he did so with his team in a near-dire situation.
Varlamov certainly didn't win Game 3 on his own on Monday night, however (Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and John Erskine deserve significant praise as well), but if the Caps are going to level the series at two games apiece on Wednesday night, they're almost assuredly going to need to be even better as a team - because you can bet the Rangers will be - and that starts at the top.
As cliche as it sounds, the Caps need their best players to be their best players, and on Monday night, a couple of them were and a couple of them weren't. To be sure, there's something pleasing about winning a game when Alex Ovechkin isn't great and Mike Green isn't special. But often those games aren't won. In fact, Puck Daddy pointed out the numbers on AO the other day, but they bear
stealing repeating (and adding in Green):
|In Wins (2008-09)
|In Losses (2008-09)
What really stands out is the disparity in game-winning goals in wins and losses. Ahem. But to take it one step further, the Caps were 8-9-1 during the regular season when AO was held off the scoresheet and 11-12-3 when Green was blanked (as a point of minimal contrast, the team was 12-10-4 when Backstrom was pointless). Finally, the Caps were 18-17-4 when Ovechkin failed to score a goal, but 31-5-4 when he lit the lamp and 19-4-3 when Green dented the twine.
The point is, when the Caps' two biggest guns are playing well, they're carrying the team and when they're not, sometimes the team stumbles - as Ovie and Green go, so go the Caps, more often than not. On Monday night, Ovechkin had two helpers, Green had nothing. If one of them can score on Wednesday, the team will likely be in good shape. If both do, they should be heading home tied in the series.
But, as mentioned earlier, it's going to take another team effort tonight to win a second consecutive game in a building in which the hosts dropped just 11 games in regulation all season, and part of that - as it has been all season - is discipline. On Monday night, the Caps gave the Rangers six power play opportunities via a couple of holds, a couple of slashes (and not the awesome kind), a hi-stick and a hook. Yes, the Caps have killed off eleven consecutive Ranger advantages, but in a series that has already produced a pair of one-goal games, it's critical to stay out of the box as much as possible. Through three games, the Caps have committed seven restraining fouls (five hooks and two holds) and five stick fouls (the slashes, a pair of hi-sticks and a cross-check), or four restraining/stick penalties per game.
There are other relatively small (and some relatively large) things the Caps can be doing better right now, but if the Caps play as well as they're capable of playing, it won't matter how the Rangers play - the teams will be starting a best-of-three on Friday night at the VC. If they take anything for granted, from the goal on out, Friday night could be nothing more than dead team skating. It's in their hands and on their sticks - let's see what they do with it.
Oh, and one last thing for the old man of the bunch - you owe it to yourself and your legacy to be Sergei Fedorov at least one more time. Tonight would be a great night for it.