As noted yesterday, many of the pundits who picked the Penguins in this series pointed to a perceived advantage in Pittsbugh's net, as most thought Marc-Andre Fleury would outplay Simeon Varlamov, his rookie counterpart, in the series.
Well, after one game, it certainly wasn't the way things went, as Valamov, despite letting in a soft goal in the second period, rebounded to make a tremendous save on Sidney Crosby and led the Caps to a 3-2 win, moving his playoff record to 5-2, and also quelling some of the critics who felt the more potent Pittsburgh offense would have its way with the 21-year-old.
Varlamov made 34 saves in the win, including 13 in the final frame, as the Capitals took an important lead in this series.
At the other end, Fleury was decent, but not great, as he was victimized twice on close-in plays, in the first period as Dave Steckel poked home a rebound to nullify an early Crosby tally, and the deciding goal, as Tomas Fleischmann was able to beat Fleury inside the post early in the third. Washington's other tally, on a 5-on-3, came on a play that he had no chance, as Alex Ovechkin slammed home an Alexander Semin pass for a 2-1 lead to end the first period.
But while the pre-series focus was on Crosby and Ovechkin, clearly, Saturday's game was about Varlamov, who earned the game's first star with some great saves. The Russian's only mistakes came on the glove side, as he wasn't fast enough to stop a Crosby shot early in the game, and misjudged a Mark Eaton shot for a Pittsburgh equalizer, but those miscues were more than balanced out in the second period as he robbed the Penguins of at least two goals during the middle frame as he held his ground.
Varlamov was solid in his first start against a dangerous Penguins team, and now boasts a playoff-best 1.29 goals-against average and his .950 save percentage is just a fraction off of Jonas Hiller's effort for the Ducks and Roberto Luongo's equivalent .951 work for the Canucks.
But clearly after one game, the 23rd overall pick of the 2006 draft is showing his stuff, showing a lot of poise and the ability to shake off a bad goal and come up with a highlight-reel save just moments later.
So, while some pundits doubted Varlamov's ability coming into this series, now he sports a 9-2-1 overall record in just 13 NHL games, and a 1-0 game lead over the top overall pick of the 2003 NHL Draft in Fleury.