- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2011

Goaltender is the most important position in hockey - especially in the playoffs. As Arturs Irbe, the Capitals’ coach for that position, said, “If you don’t have great goaltending in the playoffs, you really don’t stand a chance.”

And then there’s Jason Chimera’s theory.

“It’s a terrible position to play,” he said - because a couple of bad goals can create controversy.

Enter the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks, who are grappling with goaltending troubles going into their respective Game 7s Tuesday night. The Flyers have started three different goalies and can’t get consistent play out of any of them, and the Canucks benched Vezina Trophy finalist Roberto Luongo and had to turn back to him.

Here in Washington? Crickets. The Capitals cruised into the second round thanks to Michal Neuvirth calmly shutting down the New York Rangers and never allowing a soft goal.

“The guy’s just a rock. I know I have the utmost confidence in him,” defenseman Sean Collins said. “It’s definitely reassuring, and it’s huge for a team to have that kind of goaltending.”

It’s a nice change of pace around these parts. In each of the past two playoff runs, the Caps split the goaltending duties between Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. Now Neuvirth is the man, and there are no worries about his dependability between the pipes.

Vancouver and Philadelphia wish they had things so easy.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault replaced a struggling Luongo with backup Cory Schneider in Game 6 Sunday night - but when Schneider got hurt, the man some consider the best goalie in the world had to come into the game in relief. Luongo lost (again) but will likely get sent back out there for Game 7 to save his team’s season.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette declared rookie Sergei Bobrovsky his playoff starter in the final week of the regular season, but by Game 3 he was banished to the press box in favor of Brian Boucher and 2010 playoff hero Michael Leighton. Since, each goalie has imploded, but Philadelphia is still alive - turning back to Boucher to save its season.

“Playoffs, it’s tough for goalies,” Caps forward Matt Bradley said. “You can have one good game and then you have a bad game and you’re thinking about it.”

It’s something the Caps don’t even have to think about. And they’re counting their lucky stars to have Neuvirth rolling at the right time.

“He’s looked so calm in there,” Chimera said of Neuvirth. “He’s pretty grounded; he just goes about his business.”

That business has been winning without controversy. And right now, as the Caps prepare for an unknown opponent and try to move past playoff failures, that’s just what they need.

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