Two young men skated onto the ice Monday night with the same all-important task ahead of them.
They wore red, white and blue. The venues were two of the most magical venues in hockey and the two young men were backstopping teams that needed wins in the worst way.
In New York City, Washington rookie goalkeeper Simeon Varlamov made his Madison Square Garden playoff debut and stoned the hometown Rangers, notching his first NHL shutout in the process as the Capitals crept back into their first round series, which they now trail two games to one.
In Montreal, netminder Carey Price faced a crowd nearly as hostile – except they were hypothetically cheering for his team to scratch away at the two-game edge the Boston Bruins held in their opening series with the Habs. Price, who looks like he has all the weight of the world on him, did not get that victory.
Varlamov, who took over the Washington pipe duties in Game 2 for an ineffective Jose Theodore, had already given the Caps fantastic goaltending. But in that second loss, the Caps' offense let him down. Monday night, Alexander Semin gave Varlamov all the cushion he needed in the first period and the rookie netminder took care of the rest.
Very early in the game, Varlamov made some tough saves, specifically on Nik Zherdev, but generally the Caps gave their goaltender a chance to be great. He took that chance.
Over in Montreal, the Canadiens had similar designs on a Bruins team lacking suspended sparkplug Milan Lucic and began their game banging and crashing, with everyone from Georges Laraque to Saku Koivu getting in on the hit parade.
When a Mike Komisarek gaffe led to Boston's first goal (tying the game 1-1), it seemed like a cruel twist of fate for the star-crossed Price. When the young goalkeeper kicked a long rebound out to former Hab Michael Ryder for Boston's game-winning goal late in the second period, it was clear that no matter how many sharp saves Price had made earlier in the night, he had not stolen the game for the Habs, which was precisely what this team needed.
Playing without the injured Mathieu Schneider and Alex Tanguay, Montreal was spirited but doomed. While Boston got offense from fourth-liners such as Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz, the Canadiens were killing an early penalty by Andrei Kostitsyn, who remains pointless in the series.
Coach/GM Bob Gainey will look for more answers for his Montreal squad, but there really aren't any. The Bruins are a better team and no matter how well Price plays in Game 4, Tim Thomas is no slouch in the Boston net.
Meanwhile, the Capitals have found their offense and a new starting goaltender to boot. Down two games to one, they are guaranteed another shot at a home victory. They have the horses, now they just need to ride them.
ALEX THE WELL-ROUNDED
Alex Ovechkin still hasn't beaten Henrik Lundqvist in the Washington-New York series, but the superstar sniper is contributing in other ways. Along with getting his points through assists, Ovie had two humongous saves on dangerous Rangers penalty killer Lauri Korpikoski. In the first instance, Ovechkin sprawled out to block a shorthanded Korpikoski shot. Later on, the Caps sniper tracked down the tricky Finn after losing the puck to him, swatting it out of harm's way as Korpikoski once again swung in on Varlamov shorthanded.
Sean Avery's penalty troubles prevented any sort of Rangers comeback in Game 3. The Abrasive One began his streak by punching John Erskine in the jaw and ended it with a roughing penalty on Varlamov and a subsequent game misconduct. Avery had four minors from the second period on.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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