- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2011

If national viewers were surprised to see Michal Neuvirth put on a show in the Capitals’ first-round series victory over the Rangers, they clearly haven’t been listening to Bruce Boudreau.

“I’m telling ya, a lot of people don’t know his name too much I mean outside of our circles but he’s a heck of a goalie,” Boudreau said Saturday after Neuvirth stopped 26 shots and earned first-star honors in the clincher at Verizon Center.

Neuvirth went into the playoffs talking like a confident goaltender, discussing how he has never lost a playoff series in North America. Counting this one, he’s 15-for-15, but this was his first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“It’s unbelievable feeling,” Neuvirth said. “You’re never gonna forget about this night.”

Or all the games before. Neuvirth’s 1.38 goals against average and .946 save percentage led all goalies in the first round.

While there was some talk before the playoffs about a tandem with Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, Neuvirth has done everything in his power to seize this chance to be the guy.

“Every game is a big opportunity for me,” he said. “It’s been a great experience for myself just playing with these guys.”

Neuvirth allowed some goals this series no one’s going to pitch five straight shutout games in the playoffs and go as unnoticed as the 23-year-old has. But he never allowed a bad goal something that can swing the momentum of a period, a game or even a series.

“He didn’t give ‘em a chance; he was great,” Boudreau said. “And he’d cover pucks up, he wouldn’t allow rebounds. And then we’d get chances and slow it down and we wanted to do that.”

Simply put, “That’s Neuvy he’s unbelievable,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, who has played (and won) with Neuvirth with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. “He’s just doing what we need him to do so we’re successful.”

Given that no team has won the Stanley Cup in the past 25 years without one goalie playing at least 90 percent of the minutes, Neuvirth is starting to show he’s up to that task. While it’s very possible Varlamov sees some action this playoffs, his chances appear to get slimmer each time Neuvirth makes a great save look unbelievably routine.

That’s because no matter what, Neuvirth never looks rattled or nervous.

“He doesn’t have nerves, I think,” center Nicklas Backstrom said.

What he does have is a team and a franchise on his back. And he looks totally comfortable with that.

“Goaltending is such a huge factor in the playoffs. You gotta have a hot goalie and he’s gotta be playing well,” center Jason Arnott said. “He proved it; he played calm and collected the whole series and played real well for us. He needs to be our backbone, and when he’s playing like that, it gives us the confidence to go out and play in front of him.”