Jose Theodore takes seat as Semyon Varlamov steps up in goal for Washington Capitals

Just under eight minutes into the first period, Andrei Kostitsyn fired a wrist shot past Jose Theodore to put the Washington Capitals down 2-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead of a chorus of boos raining down, there was a low rumble of cheers. It wasn’t Montreal Canadiens fans cheering; instead it was the Capitals faithful cheering on rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov, who was replacing Theodore in net.

The switch seemed almost inevitable, as Theodore started Game 2 flat. He looked like the JT of old and didn’t resemble the dominant goalie that carried the Capitals down the stretch. In just eight minutes, he had changed from the team’s number one goalie to someone who probably won’t see the ice again this season.

One cannot fault Head Coach Bruce Boudreau with his decision to pull Theodore. The team was already down 1-0 in the seven game series and was on the verge of dropping Game 2 for the second time in two years. This was a must win and Boudreau was clearly not going to risk letting the game get any further out of hand.

The move ended up paying off as just minutes later, a fired up Eric Fehr cut Washington’s deficit to just one with a breakaway goal. It was his fifth goal in the last six games against the Canadiens and suddenly the Capitals were right back in the game and series. Boudreau said the goal was essentially what he wanted to have come from pulling Theodore.

“[The goals were] more of a deflating thing on the bench [and] I thought we needed the change. I don’t know if [in reality] Theo had much chance on either one of them, but I know we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down two - nothing,” Boudreau said. “I thought it would be a lift for the crowd and a lift for the bench.”

What was more encouraging than Varly’s play in net was the way Theodore reacted to the change. He had worked all season to get to the playoffs and he wanted to show the hockey world that he could succeed. When it was clear he would be unable to do that, he didn’t throw a temper tantrum on the ice or blame Varly. In fact he did much of the opposite.

As the two passed each other on the ice, Theodore went out of his way to make sure that he gave the rookie a high five and a word of encouragement. His good attitude didn’t stop there either. In between periods, JT continued to mentor and help Varlamov.

“[Theodore] approached me and offered some support,” Varlamov said. “It is a difficult situation to step in during the first period and he helped me a lot.”

Whatever Theodore said to Varly certainly helped. The young Russian had struggled down the stretch in the regular season and seemed to have been “figured out” but he looked spectacular during the two and a half periods of play Saturday night.

The three shots Varlamov let in were not his fault and could do very little. Varlamov’s saves were more important than the goals he let in. The playoff veteran, who started all but one of Washington’s postseason games last year, put his team in a position to win.

Team captain Alex Ovechkin had nothing but good things to say about Varlamov’s performance. Ovechkin said that he tried to keep Varly focused between periods and gave him words of encouragement.

“I just told him it was OK, we will win this game. I said just make some saves, keep us in the game and we will win,” Ovechkin said. “Jose didn’t play well and Varly stepped up and played unbelievably.”

One down side of Varlamov’s performance is that Theodore will most likely never take the ice in a Washington Capitals uniform again. It is not just because Varlamov looks like a goalie that can carry a team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but also because Theo cannot mentally handle being pulled.

Theo is a competent goalie, but his confidence is gone. He was unable to rebound from things like being pulled earlier in his career and Boudreau cannot take the chance on whether he can in the playoffs.

The NHL playoffs are win-or-go-home and there is no longer any time for testing the waters or experimenting, especially not when a series is knotted up at 1-1. As a result, don’t be surprised if JT is never heard from again. While it is not the way Theodore, the Capitals and many fans wanted the playoffs to go, there is nothing that can be done now. Varly is the number one goalie.

With that said, Theodore has shown he is still a valuable member of the team. If he keeps his positive demeanor and continues to help Varlamov then he will inevitably still help the team win. Washington has been picked to go deep into the playoffs and it will take an entire team effort, even from the guys on the bench like Theo.

You can reach this writer at atomlinson@theeagleonline.com

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