THE RESULTS:  Semyon Varlamov made 37 saves, leading the Washington Capitals to their fourth consecutive victory, over Yaroslav Halak and the St. Louis Blues, 4-1.  The Caps extend their league-leading record to 18-6-2 (38 points) and now have a four point lead over Philadelphia for the conference lead.

It's little solice defeating the goalie that single-handedly ousted the Caps from last year's playoffs in the first round with his new team.  But every win for this team is important -- especially on the road --  whether it's exorcizing old demons or not.

It's the first time the Caps have won in the Gateway since Oct. 26, 1996, a stretch of eight games (0-7-1).

What else happened in 1996?

--Federal minimum wage raised to $4.75.
--Prince Charles and Lady Diana got divorced.
--Ebay started online auction and shopping website.
--Gas cost $1.22 on nationwide average.
--Summer Olympics in Atlanta marred by explosion.
--O.J. Simpson trial started.
--DVDs launched in Japan.
--Independence Day and Jerry Maguire ruled the box office.
--Bill Clinton re-elected, defeating Bob Dole and Ross Perot for President.

That's how long it's been since the Caps won in St. Louis.

Wednesday night, Washington got goals from Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon, and Nicklas Backstrom had a pair and an assist in a good road win.

But the story was Varlamov.  He played his best game of the season, much better than even his shutout against Tampa Bay.  He was challenged thoughout the game, and made several spectacular saves, robbing Blues players with every part of his equipment -- including his facemask.

One particular great save was on Blues winger Brad Boyes on a power play.  A long shot from the point was kicked out to Boyes, standing alone at the bottom of the left wing dot.  Boyes flipped the puck into a seemingly empty net, but Varlamov sprung to the opposite side of the net to get his right pad on the post and blocker pad in the way of the unchallenged shot.

In his last four games, Varlamov is 4-0-0 with a 1.28 goals against average. 

It's a good sign that Varlamov has played so well during this winning streak with Michal Neuvirth a little banged up and needing a rest, having pulled the bulk of duty while Varlamov was out with a groin injury.  One of coach Bruce Boudreau's biggest challenge this season will be finding enough playing time for both of his 22-year old goaltenders to keep them both sharp throughout the season.

It's a good problem to have, two young, good goaltenders on the big club, and another one at the AHL level.  What many thought might be a problem coming into the season is turning out to be one of the team's biggest strengths.

THE GOOD:  As time was expiring and playing five-on-six, Alex Ovechkin picked up a puck at mid-ice and weaved through the neutral zone and took the puck to the far wall until Backstrom could catch up with the play, where Ovi hit his center streaking to the net for an empty net goal. 

It was a classy move by the captain who hasn't scored a goal in two weeks now.  He easily could have gotten off the schneid, but chose to give the opportunity to his teammate.  Strong.

THE BAD:  Eric Fehr.  I didn't hear his name called all night.  Had the two quietest shots on goal this season.

THE UGLY:  Tom Poti missed most of the third period with an undisclosed problem.  Nice to have some depth on the blue line now, eh?

THE STATS:  Laich (7) from Backstrom (19) and Semin (13) at 8:12 of 1st (PP).  Gordon (1) from Poti (1) and King (1) at 10:02 of 1st.  Backstrom (10) from Knuble (6) and Carlson (9) at 7:06 of 3rd.  Backstrom (11) from Ovechkin (23) and Erskine (4) at 19:25 of 3rd (EN).

NEXT GAME:  Thursday night in Dallas against the Stars at 8:30 pm EST.


3. John Erskine.  Assist and plus-2.  Five hits and two blocks.  He wants to stay in the lineup once new d-man Scott Hannan gets a sweater. Good work on final kill with Jeff Schultz in the box and Tom Poti in the locker room with an undisclosed problem.
2. Nicklas Backstrom.  Two goals and an assist.  Plus-2.  Six shots on goal.  Even had three hits.  Only knock was 38% face off percentage.
1. Semyon Varlamov.  37 saves. many spectacular.  The Caps played a pretty good game, but he was clearly their best player in this one.