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Neuvirth shuns pressure in playoff debut

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michal Neuvirth had a tough task set before him for his NHL playoff debut, facing across the ice from one of the league's best netminders in Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist.

But was the 23-year-old nervous about getting his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs?

"To be honest, I wasn't nervous at all," Neuvirth said, laughing, after the Capitals' 2-1 overtime win over New York. "I had a good nap before the game, I felt good the whole day."

Neuvirth was certainly sharp, stopping 24 of 25 Rangers shots - including a big save in the second period on  sniper Marian Gaborik that Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin said was a big one for Washington.

"He was very calm and very focused on the puck and in the game," Ovechkin said of Neuvirth. "In the second period Gaborik had a great opportunity to score a goal and [Neuvirth] made a huge save to keep us in the game."

Lundqvist made 31 saves at the other end, and Neuvirth knew he had to be sharp against the Vezina Trophy candidate. As the game progressed, he matched him well, with both netminders allowing just one third-period goal before overtime.

"Yeah, obviously [Lundqvist is] a good goalie, and we want to beat them," Neuvirth said. "I got to be as good as he plays."

The only blemish on Neuvirth's evening was allowing a third-period goal to the Rangers' Matt Gilroy - who also was making his playoff debut - on a shot Neuvirth said he was a "little bit" screened.

But despite some early pressure in overtime from New York, Neuvirth stood his ground and made six overtime saves until Alexander Semin ended the contest with just 96 seconds left in the frame.

"It was a good crowd tonight," Neuvirth said of his debut. "The NHL is the NHL, it's the best in the world and it's a lot of fun."

While Neuvirth had plenty of playoff experience in the American Hockey League, where he led the Hershey Bears to back-to-back Calder Cup titles, he admitted it was a bit different to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"[There's a] big difference between these leagues, the NHL is a better league," the goaltender said. "But there was a lot of pressure down in Hershey, pressure to win last year as there is here [now]."

Unlike the past two first-round Game 1s for Washington, Bruce Boudreau was happy with his young netminder's performance.

"He played great just like Lundqvist – I thought both goalies were outstanding," Boudreau said. "That's how I knew Michal would play."

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