So is it too early for the Washington Capitals to give up? Not on their series against the New York Rangers of course -- a 4-3 first game loss isn't the right time to throw in the towel -- but on Jose Theodore.
The southpaw goalie was the biggest question mark for the heavily favored Eastern Conference second seed coming into these playoffs, with the general consensus being that Theodore could be the only thing standing between the Caps and a legitimate Stanley Cup run. Unfortunately, he did nothing to assuage those fears with a miserable night that not only put Washington behind the eight ball, but cost the Caps the home ice advantage they earned for this series.
Theodore really did make all those fans decked out in Caps red see that color. He wasn't set properly when Scott Gomez beat him with a weak shot to tie the game a minute after Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring for Washington; he didn't react quickly enough on goals by Nik Antropov and Markus Naslund; and he didn't cover the short side properly when Brandon Dubinsky beat him for the winner. All told, Theodore made only 17 saves, few enough to offset what was an otherwise dominant effort by Washington.
That has to concern the Capitals. They executed their game plan well by penetrating the Rangers zone and creating the kind of offensive pressure they wanted, but Washington still came away empty handed because New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist lived up to his repuation. In other words, he was really good.
He had to be. Washington outshot the Rangers 35-21, outdid them in the faceoff circle by an astounding 46-20 margin and outhit New York 35-27. The Caps power play even scored a couple of times against the league's best penalty killers. Alex Ovechkin was the force he is supposed to be too, getting a pair of assists to go along with 13 shots and 15 more that were either blocked or went wide. And he delivered six bone crushing hits, but nothing mattered because Theodore didn't give his team a chance to win.
Washington doesn't have much time to figure out if he can in this series. Problem is their only other option is Simeon Varlamov, a 21-year-old rookie who has all of six NHL games under his belt. But Caps coach Bruce Boudreau didn't rule out using him, saying "when you lose, you make changes."
Maybe he means it is time to give up.
Meanwhile, the home teams managed to prevail in the other games of the first night, with the New Jersey Devils playing their most complete game in a month to beat Carolina 4-1 and the Pittsburgh Penguins using a quick start to overwhelm the Philadelphia Flyers by the same score. Vancouver rounded things out with a 2-1 win over a plucky St. Louis Blues team.
The Devils effort was arguably the biggest surprise of the evening, mostly because they were able to beat the Hurricanes at their own game. The Devils were flying from the opening faceoff, using their bodies and their speed to keep the Hurricanes back and to take advantage of Carolina's weakness in its own end. New Jersey outshot the visitors 39-19 and more important, got goals fron Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner, the players they need to score to win this series.
It was the same story in Pittsburgh where big guns Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both found the back of the net. The Penguins also got a nice display of leadership from veteran Bill Guerin, who defended a teammate late in the game by fighting Braydon Coburn, and Pittssburgh's Marc Andre Fleury wasn't too shabby in goal either. Neither was Philadelphia's Martin Biron for that matter.
Still, the most anticipated goaltending battle of the night between Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and the Blues Chris Mason didn't really materialize, although both were as sharp as they had to be in a close game. That's good news for both teams because this series looks like it is shaping up to be a long one.