The spotlight was focused squarely on
Before this series is over, it's likely that each will assert their will on a contest and make it their own. But not today. This game was all about Washington netminder
Not that it started off all that well for the rookie. He was beaten early by a clever but very-stoppable shot from Crosby, who took a pass from
After the Caps calmed some early jitters and pounced on Pittsburgh's self-destructive tendencies to take a 2-1 lead, Varlamov gave it back when an unscreened, untouched 60-footer from offensive lightweight
It had the potential to be a deflating moment for the rookie who played the shot a bit too passively. And it certainly gave life to the Penguins, who found their legs after spending most of the period struggling to match the intensity and puck pursuit of the hungrier Capitals.
But while his teammates sagged -- time and again making inexplicable defensive decisions that led to odd-man breaks for the Penguins -- a grimly determined Varlamov asserted himself as the best player on the ice. He stood his ground against several tough chances, including a nifty stop in tight on
Then came his moment. And, surprisingly, the chance was created by another brutal read by the Washington defense. This time,
It was the save of the playoffs, so stunning that it'll make the sportcasts in markets that don't show hockey unless it involves a line brawl or a streaker in red socks smashing his head on the ice. And he made it on Crosby, of all people.
Lucky? Of course it was. Crosby gets any elevation on the puck at all and it's a different outcome. But you've got to give full marks to Varlamov for not giving up on the play. The book on the 21-year-old suggests his best qualities are his competitiveness and athleticism. Hard not to see that now.
The Pens mounted a modest assault the rest of the way, outshooting the Caps 13-6 in the final period. But even as his mates continued make mental errors, Varlamov was there, making 34 stops on the day.
Prior to their first round series against the Rangers, I noted that Varlamov's resume at was pretty much limited to babysitting and lawn mowing. After out dueling Olympic gold medallist and three-time Vezina finalist
The thinking before Game 1 was that this series was his to win or lose. After Game 1, the Caps have to be feeling good about their chances.