TAMPA, Fla. | Two iffy goals. Perhaps one that shouldn’t have counted. And then a barrage of saves. It was a night to forget for Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth wasn’t the reason the Capitals lost Game 3 to the Lightning on Tuesday night, but for the first time all playoffs he deserved part of the blame. The 23-year-old goaltender finished with 26 saves on 30 shots but allowed at least one bad goal and perhaps a second as the Lightning pushed Washington to the brink of elimination via sweep.
“I thought a couple of the goals he should’ve had, but at the same time when they got the lead he kept us in the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think we, as a group, we lost our composure there and had giveaways and he was there to keep us involved in the game.”
Sean Bergenheim’s goal to open the scoring was the worst he has given up all playoffs as the Lightning forward tucked it five hole on Neuvirth. With everyone talking about the first goal being so crucial, Tampa Bay had it.
But the Caps clawed back and even took the lead. Then Vinny Lecavalier tucked it past Neuvirth.
“They score, we end up coming back and playing with a lead and it’s just, we give ‘em a lifeline when it’s 2-1, let ‘em come 2-2, go up 3-2, give ‘em another lifeline,” right wing Mike Knuble said – not referring to Neuvirth but the entire team. “It’s like they’re uncanny when they wanna get a goal. It’s like they just snap their fingers or hit a button.”
After Ryan Malone’s goal that turned out to be the game-winner, Neuvirth was excellent and did everything possible to give the Caps a chance to tie the score and force overtime. They couldn’t, and now he’s on the verge of losing his first playoff series in North America.
After a handful of questions in the locker room following the game, Neuvirth appeared to be on the brink of tears.
“It’s not over yet,” Neuvirth said. “Tomorrow is a new day and it’s not over. We’ve gotta be ready for tomorrow and try to ship the series back home.”
But will it be Neuvirth who gets the chance to do that? Boudreau said Tuesday morning he hadn’t contemplated making the switch to Semyon Varlamov for Game 3. It would not be a surprise at all if Varlamov is in net for Game 4 on Wednesday as the Caps get their first chance to stave off elimination.