The talk before Game 2 of the Capitals-Rangers series was all about Washington's goalie situation, but it was the netminder at the other end of the ice who stole the show when the puck finally dropped.
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped 35 shots for a shutout on Saturday, spurring his team to a 1-0 victory over the hometown Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference quarter-final matchup.
The Rangers have now stolen two games in front of a hostile Verizon Center crowd, and return to the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden with a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is on Monday.
"We're not trying to be pretty," said Rangers captain Chris Drury, who played after sitting out Game 1. "We just want to win. This time of year, that's all that matters."
Washington starting goalie Jose Theodore sat this one out in favour of rookie backup Simeon Varlamov, confirming the speculation about a goalie change after Theodore's subpar performance in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Varlamov had a stellar night of his own in a losing cause. He kept his squad in the contest when the Rangers pressed, stopping 23 of 24 shots.
Washington outshot New York 35-24.
No chance on game-winner
Varlamov had no chance on the winning goal, which came in the first period. New York scored on the team's second shot of the game when Ryan Callahan received a perfect pass from Markus Naslund on a 2-on-1 and beat the sprawling Capitals goalie at 7:44.
Naslund resembled the form he displayed for several years as Vancouver Canucks captain, and has three points in the first two games of the series.
Washington's two Alexes, Ovechkin and Semin, plus veteran sniper Sergei Fedorov, all took turns being shut down by the Rangers' goalie.
Ovechkin had only five shots on net in Game 2, but he was the closest to tying the game when he took a shot off the crossbar at the six-minute mark of the third period. The Russian superstar was in the slot and one-timed a perfect pass, but looked skyward as he saw his shot miss by centimetres.
"You can say he's a great goalie, but we're good players, and we have to score goals, that certainly is true," said Ovechkin.
Nicklas Backstrom had a glorious chance to tie the game when he sped by the New York defence with four minutes to go, but Lundqvist stood his ground.
"They're going to make plays. They're going to get chances," said Scott Gomez of the Rangers. "But Lundqvist and the 'D' were outstanding again."
The Capitals didn't have a power-play chance until the four-minute mark of the second period, but it didn't matter much as neither team scored with the extra man. The Rangers went 0-for-5 while the Caps were 0-for-3.
Nerves aren't the only thing Washington has to worry about now. The Caps have to go against history as well. In 291 total series where a team has dropped the first two games, it has come back to win only 37 times, or 13 per cent.
It was Washington, spurred by a raucous home crowd, that started strong in the game's opening minutes. The Caps landed big hits and peppered Lundqvist with quality scoring chances before Callahan's tally.
Lundqvist gave notice that he was on his game early, stopping Ovechkin halfway through the first period as he danced into the Ranger zone and took a diving shot on a 2-on-1. Lundqvist made another save on the rebound, as Viktor Kozlov had a point-blank opportunity.
Fedorov then had a chance on another 2-on-1, but Lundqvist stopped the slapshot with his right shoulder. Washington outshot New York 13-6 in the first.
Varlamov's turn to shine
In the second, it was Varlamov's turn to shine as he turned away 10 Ranger shots to keep the game at 1-0. New York outshot Washington 10-6 in the frame.
The Capitals got more desperate as the third period wore on, but Lundqvist frustrated them at every turn.
He stopped everything, even when he didn't have his own stick in hand. He lost his in a scrum with around eight minutes to go in the game, but still stopped a couple shots with the aid of winger Naslund's stick.
New York's defence, heavily criticized this season, blocked shots, clogged shooting lanes, and lifted Washington sticks on other occasions.
"Everyone's doing a great job sacrificing and trying to get in the way of pucks and not letting them get to Hank [Henrik] as much as we can," said defender Wade Redden. "It's contagious — you see other guys doing that, and you really try to do those little things that end up being big at the end of the night."
The New York defence was solid in the closing minutes, even with Varlamov on the bench for the extra attacker.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said his team won't quit even though they're heading to New York.
"You tell the guys, 'Keep the faith.' One break in either game and we could be up 2-0," said Boudreau. "It's two pretty even teams playing their hearts out."