RALEIGH, N.C. | This opportunity came without a whole lot of fanfare: Michal Neuvirth making his first start since the season opener. He managed two periods in relief in Vancouver as part of shaking the rust off.
But Friday night represented the 23-year-old’s first 60-minute effort in almost a month, and though his 24-save performance was far from perfect it looked like Neuvirth was rounding back into form.
“It feel pretty nice. I was a little nervous before the game because I didn’t play for a while,” Neuvirth said. “I had a good practice [Friday] and I had a good pregame skate this morning, so I was pretty confident coming into the game.”
It didn’t take long for the Hurricanes to test – and beat – Neuvirth, as Anthony Stewart tipped Jay Harrison’s point shot by him on Carolina’s fourth shot of the night. Neuvirth didn’t have much of a chance, but what he did after that was vital.
“That early goal, that didn’t help me,” he said. “I stay positive, and after that goal I was going save by save and very happy I shut the door after that.”
Neuvirth didn’t allow a goal the rest of the game, a tribute to a solid shutdown effort team-wise but also to his ability to make timely – even if not spectacular – saves. The Caps were buoyed by his strong play under pressure.
“Michal’s stepping up big time and he hasn’t played for a long time, and he was great,” defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “We give him some confidence, I think, in the second period and as the game went on we played better and better.”
There were holes that perhaps a better opponent than Carolina would have exploited, like Neuvirth giving up some juicy rebounds. It didn’t come back to bite him Friday, and it’s something that he should shore up with a few more games.
“Yeah, exactly,” Neuvirth said. “I’m just happy to get back on the ice and get the win. I’m just going to get better and improve in many areas.”