The Washington Times - April 18, 2011, 04:20PM

Each time there was a whistle in the Capitals’ defensive zone Sunday afternoon in Game 3, it seemed like a Rangers player was in Michal Neuvirth’s crease. Or in his face. Or in his ear. New York pest Sean Avery in particular kept skating over to say something to the young goalie.

“The crowd was pretty loud so I couldn’t understand,” Neuvirth said with a smirk.

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Neuvirth admitted traffic in front during play contributed to at least one goal against, but he wasn’t fazed by the post-whistle antics designed to rattle him. The Caps, on the other hand, were at times and got involved in scrums.

“It’s just a matter of us not making smart decisions. Getting involved after the whistle is a stupid thing for either team,” forward Matt Bradley said. “You’re only risking putting yourself down in a penalty situation. We have to be smarter.”

But it’s not that easy. If the Caps simply skate away, they allow the Rangers to take shots at Neuvirth and look like they’re hanging their goalie out to dry.

“It’s a really double-edged sword because if we start doing something, we’re gonna get retaliation penalties, which is what you tell the guys not to do,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You’re hoping that they’re being called. If it’s not called, there’s not much you can do without getting involved in four-on-four situations and taking guys out.”

That’s exactly what happened late in Game 3 as Brian Boyle exchanged words and some shoves with Caps defenseman John Carlson. Carlson retaliated and both went to the box. Carlson explained it as “just a hockey play” that happens “in the heat of the moment.” The Rangers scored on that four-on-four.

“I’ve just got to stay out of it. It’s pretty easy to think about it and stay out of it but it’s harder to go out there and do it,” Carlson said. “And it’s playoffs now you have to bear down.”

Brooks Laich said it’s not that hard to stand there and take it if an opponent is instigating.

“Whatever. What are they gonna do? We’re grown men. We can take a shot here or there,” Laich said. “Nobody’s gonna hurt you. If somebody wants to yap at you, big deal.”

But it is a big deal given how effective the Rangers were at doing that – especially the line of Boyle, Avery and Brandon Prust. John Tortorella said mucking things up and making life difficult on Neuvirth is part of the plan – because his Rangers aren’t good enough to win without that stuff.

Karl Alzner said the Caps need to not focus on it.

“But it is tough,” he admitted. “They get warnings all game, and then we finally do one thing because we’re upset about the warnings and then that’s what happens. So it is a little frustrating for us, but you got to do whatever it takes. Might be a few punches in the head or a couple slashes in the back of the legs. But it shouldn’t matter right now.”

Not getting involved in the extracurricular activity between skaters is one thing – that’s about the Caps not allowing the Rangers to get into their heads. But it’s an entirely different dilemma when Neuvirth is involved – even though the 23-year-old netminder always seems composed.

“They’re doing all of that stuff and trying to get him off his game, but the good thing about Michal is it doesn’t seem to affect him,’ Boudreau said. “We have to protect the goalies, both the team and the officials.”

It goes both ways, too. The Caps would love to be able to make Game 4 (and beyond) difficult on New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.

“They went to the net hard last game. I think it’s one of the things we can do as well – we can go to the net,” center Boyd Gordon said. “We wanna go to the net, get traffic and cause problems for them. … We wanna get bodies in front and make it hard for him.”