WASHINGTON – Nobody was more surprised than Semyon Varlamov when he entered the game just 7:58 into the first period with his team already facing a 2-0 deficit to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
"Of course I am surprised," Varlamov said through an interpreter. "It's not often you see a goalie pulled after two goals. But obviously I wasn't going to argue with it. They told me to go play, and I played."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau made the unusual decision to exercise the quick hook after Jose Theodore was beaten on the only two shots he faced, despite the fact that they were almost seven minutes apart.
"It was more of a deflating thing on the bench where I thought we needed a change," Boudreau said. "I thought we needed the change to a) get a lift from the crowd and b) a lift on the bench."
It may have taken a while, but eventually the move paid off for the Caps, who somehow went home with a series-tying 6-5 overtime victory despite facing 2-0, 4-1 and 5-4 deficits in the course of the game. The win evened this best-of-7 series at one win apiece after Montreal's OT win on Thursday.
Despite giving up three goals, Varlamov did his part in the comeback.
"I just told him to stop some pucks and we'll come back," Washington captain and fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin said. "I thought Varly played great."
Varlamov stopped the first six shots he faced to keep the Canadiens at bay as they threatened to blow the game apart in the first 20 minutes. But he admitted it was no easy task.
"I tried to concentrate only on the game and think about the puck and how you stop it," Varlamov said.
The young Russian goalie also credited Theodore for helping to settle him down. Theodore, it seems, made sure to offer some advice and support during the first intermission.
"It's a very difficult situation to step in the game in the first period, so he helped me a lot," Varlamov said.
Varlamov earned the win after stopping 19 of 22 shots. Is that enough to get him a start in Game 3 at Montreal ion Monday night? In last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Varlamov replaced an ineffective Theodore after Game 1 in the first round against the Rangers and did not look back until a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round.
Could he start travelling a similar path Monday? Boudreau refused to say after the game -- and Varlamov was playing his cards close to the vest.
"They don't usually say anything right after a game," Varlamov said. "There is going to be a meeting (Sunday), and that is when they are going to announce all the starters for the Montreal game."