Thursday, April 14, 2011, 1:35 a.m.
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By Ryan OHalloran
He had just played in professional sports most pressure-packed situation overtime playoff hockey and held his nerves in check before 18,398 fans.
He had just turned away 24 of the New York Rangers 25 shots to keep the Capitals in the game until Alex Ovechkin forced the extra session and Alexander Semin ultimately won it.
He had just captured his NHL postseason debut.
And Michal Neuvirth said the experience was only slightly different from last years playoffs when he was in the minor leagues playing for Hershey.
No, really, thats what he said.
It was a pretty big crowd, he said with a shrug. It was pretty nice. The NHL is the NHL its the best league in the world, and it was fun tonight.
If only Neuvirth can stay calm, cool and collected for the foreseeable future, just think about the Capitals playoff ceiling and how much fun they can have.
More importantly, another year of goalie roulette may be off the ice.
For the first time in three postseasons, coach Bruce Boudreau wont have to figure out who his Game 2 goalie will be.
He gave Jose Theodore one shot two years ago and one shot-plus-a-little-bit last year before both times going to and sticking with Semyon Varlamov. Neuvirths play ratified Boudreaus decision.
Thats how I knew Michal would play, Boudreau said.
Said winger Mike Knuble: Hes steady. He makes the saves you need him to make and once in a while make the decent save.
Neuvirth didnt have much work periods of five, six, seven and six saves and was partially screened on the Rangers only goal, Matt Gilroy's one-timer 1:36 into the third period.
But he didnt look like a playoff rookie. He was confident in playing the puck, coming out of his goal to cut down on angles and corralling most rebounds.
I was calm the whole game, he said matter-of-factly. I was going minute by minute and save by save and felt pretty good.
Despite his solid play, Neuvirth saw his team losing 1-0 with 10 minutes to go. The Capitals were snake-bit in the first period with two crossbar shots in a span of nine seconds. With each missed opportunity and each Henrik Lundqvist glove save, Neuvirths margin for error closed even further.
Hes supposed to be the best goalie in the league or in the top three, and he played that way, Neuvirth said of Lundqvist. If you want to beat them, I have to be as good as he plays.
So does the rest of the Capitals in their own zone. Game 1 was the first postseason example that the midseason philosophy change to be more responsible defensively pays off.
Washingtons forwards pitched in along the wall, and the defensemen contributed to most of the 32 blocked shots.
It was just a matter of sticking with our system, center Jason Arnott said. We couldnt get into a run-and-gun game in overtime. This team in the past has gotten into too many run-and-gun games, and thats why they changed their system.
Since Arnott has arrived, he has stressed defense to players like Semin in particular but has been impressed by Neuvirths demeanor.
Hes very calm kid by nature; since Ive been here, he hasnt said a whole lot, Arnott said. But hes very confident in net, and goalies that have that cocky attitude, you can tell in practice, and he doesnt like us scoring on him in practice. Those are the kinds of guys you want in net. He held his ground and played well.
But as Neuvirth correctly pointed out, its only one game, and the Rangers were six-plus minutes from seizing the series lead. This different kind of start, along with Semin playing with a pulse, should represent optimism.
Contact OHalloran at firstname.lastname@example.org.