- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2013

Michal Neuvirth was nervous. Before Sunday, the Washington Capitals’ backup goaltender hadn’t played a game since March 16, and he hadn’t started at Verizon Center since Feb. 5.

“In the first few minutes, I felt like it was my first game of the year,” Neuvirth said after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2. “I haven’t played so long, especially in this building. I missed playing here.”

In his third start anywhere in the Caps’ past 26 games, Neuvirth settled in after an early goal to make 28 saves and pick up his first victory since March 14.

“I gave up [a] goal on the first shot, it’s always tough, but I stick to my plan and I made a couple of big saves, and it got me going and I feel good the rest of the way,” Neuvirth said.

Neuvirth playing broke Braden Holtby’s streak of consecutive starts at 11. Holtby went 8-2-1 with a 2.32 goals against average and .923 save percentage over that time.

Coach Adam Oates called Neuvirth’s performance “solid.” Neuvirth made two point-blank saves on Vincent Lecavalier and a handful of other memorable ones. The 25-year-old found a rhythm in net not long after a soft goal by Alex Killorn.

“I’m getting [paid] to stop pucks,” Neuvirth said. “That’s what I did tonight. I’m glad to get back in the action and gave Holts a little bit of rest.”

Defenseman John Carlson said the Caps “rallied around [Neuvirth‘s] efforts.” After relying on Holtby to make big stops for the past couple of weeks, it’s a positive for players to know Neuvirth can do the same when called upon.

“He wait his chance, and when you feel that your goalie play unbelievable, like he make great saves, you just feel comfortable out there,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “He make big save, keep us in the game and we just focus on our style and our system and it works.”

Neuvirth acknowledged it was a huge relief to win a game after so much time off. And it’s a boost for the Caps that, in center Nicklas Backstrom’s words, the goaltender was such a “big part of this win.”

“Neuvy played great; he made some big saves there in the first period, especially on their power play there,” Backstrom said. “That’s what we need. We need that kind of big saves, they give you confidence, and then we went from there.”

Ward OK after shot block

Right wing Joel Ward was fine after taking a slap shot to the left leg Sunday that forced him to leave the game, Oates said. Ward blocked Lightning defenseman Sami Salo’s shot in the third period and tried to get in front of another one while in pain before getting off the ice.

“He’s OK, took a hard shot there,” Oates said. “He was walking it off and we were OK.”

Ward did not return to the game but is expected to be all right for Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens.

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