Caps' problem? Too much time to think

Updated: April 16, 2009, 5:30 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun |

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bruce Boudreau was at it early Thursday morning, poring over video from the Game 1 playoff loss to the New York Rangers.

The Washington Capitals' coach can watch all the video he wants.

The real challenge with his young and immensely talented squad is not X's and O's, but rather the battle between the ears. His players were well coached and fully prepared for Game 1, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Henrik Lundqvist, but lost 4-3 on Wednesday in large part because their own goalie stunk out the joint.

It's hardly a first for a higher seed to drop a series opener at home or for a goalie to have a bad game. But the schedule maker did the Caps no favors with an extra off day before the series resumes Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center in D.C. That's an extra 24 hours for the young Caps to fight the demons in their heads. That's three bedtimes between games. With each passing hour, you can just feel the pressure building on the Caps as Saturday's 1 p.m. ET start approaches.

As one might expect, Boudreau had no choice but to at least publicly disagree with our take on things.

"I don't know; I think pressure is a media-based thing," Boudreau said Thursday after an optional skate at the Caps' suburban rink in Arlington, Va. "The players want to win really badly. They don't want to make mistakes. I think we handled it during the year when there were real important games. We also handled it for the most part except for an overtime goal in Game 7 last year.

"A lot of our guys thrive on attention, and they want to be center stage," Boudreau added. "They're not shying away from it. And you know which players I'm talking about. They want this stage."

We'll say this about the likeable and loquacious Boudreau -- he could sell suntan lotion in the Arctic. It's hard not to buy what he's selling. But the fact is, you know he wishes the next game was Friday and not Saturday, not allowing the anxiety to linger.

For the Rangers, it's the perfect start. Steal Game 1, and let the young kids in the Washington dressing room sweat it out for 72 hours and answer question after question from the media.

Of course, Rangers coach John Tortorella, who could teach a course on playoff head games, denied relishing any of this.

"You know, I'm not worried about their heads, I'm worried about our heads," Tortorella said Thursday after his team's optional skate across town at Verizon Center. "You'd have to ask Bruce that. That's his club, and I don't like coaching the other team. I have enough problems with our club. We're just worried about keeping our heads on straight."

Sorry, not buying it. You just know Tortorella has to be loving this. His team's only chance in this series is for Lundqvist to stand on his head and Jose Theodore to be subpar. He's batting a thousand so far.

Theodore, to his credit, hasn't ducked the media. On Wednesday night, he shouldered the loss, and the next day, he talked about the need to turn the page.

"In the playoffs, that's the beauty of it -- you have to be able to bounce back quickly because it changes so quickly," said Theodore, who gave up four goals on 21 shots Wednesday. "It's all about momentum. The story changes so quickly. You're down one game and you say the goalie is shaky and he got outplayed, which was the case, and another game, it's a different story and all you guys change your story again. That's the playoffs."

Boudreau would not confirm whether Theodore will be back in net Saturday, although that seems like the safe play at this point. Going to 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov might be portrayed as a sign of panic. Still, you know Boudreau will be ready with the hook in Game 2 if Theodore shows any signs of trouble.

"I probably do know, but I'm not going to share it one way or the other," Boudreau said when asked about whom he was going to start in goal.

When asked later whether he had informed the goalie in question, he said, "No, and you guys won't find out."

So, should we read too much into the fact that Boudreau would not confirm Theodore as his starter for Game 2?

"I'm just not divulging anything. [Alex Ovechkin], I don't know if he's going to play, too," Boudreau said to a cackle of giggles. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm not giving you any part of the lineup at all."

OK, fair enough. Why tell the Rangers anything, right? That's playoff hockey 101. But we'll say this -- he clearly believes Varlamov is a legitimate option if and when the time comes to go down that route.

"Well, he was 4-0-1 [this season]," Boudreau said. "The game he lost against Buffalo, we put three of them in our own net. He has played in the Russian elite league and he has played in the world championships in front of big crowds. So it's not like he's going to be a star-struck young guy if we went with that decision."


Theodore, meanwhile, seemed surprised the media was even speculating about a goalie change.

"What do you mean, a switch?" Theodore said. "It's the first game; I don't know what you are really referring to. It's 1-0 in the series. I've been down 3-1 in a series, and we came back and won. I think you're jumping the gun a little when your team is down 1-0."

Theodore is probably right. A big win by the Caps on Saturday, and all is well again. But if the Rangers pop a few early goals in Game 2, hold on to your hats. We might have a little drama on our hands.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer