- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Mathieu Perreault remembers the 2009 Calder Cup-clincher well — maybe not for the right reason.

“It’s the only game I didn’t play all playoffs, so I was actually like 10 times more nervous than when I was on the ice,” Perreault said.

But that doesn’t make winning it all as a member of the Hershey Bears any less special for Perreault or his Washington Capitals teammates who were part of that impressive run. It was a run that ended at MTS Centre in Winnipeg with a 4-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose.

Thursday night’s game at the Winnipeg Jets represents the first game back there for Perreault, defensemen Karl Alzner, John Carlson, playoff MVP Michal Neuvirth and then-Bears coach now-Caps assistant Bob Woods.

It’s a special place for Neuvirth in particular.

“I remember it pretty well,” Neuvirth said matter-of-factly. “It’s probably the most beautiful hockey memory I have so far, and I’m never going to forget [it].”

Neuvirth was brilliant not only that series but the entire playoffs, going 16-6 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. The 23-year-old credited that experience for showing him what pressure was like, no matter the level of hockey.

And his teammates credited Neuvirth with proving he could handle it.

“He was lights out the whole playoffs,” Carlson said. “He’s one of those goalies, I think, that in big games, he seems to step up big.”

That Bears team, led by Woods, probably would have won in five had it not been for an impressive performance by now Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider. That prevented clinching on home ice in Hershey but set the stage for a Neuvirth showcase game in Winnipeg.

When the Bears led 3-1 late, it was time to celebrate. Neuvirth wasn’t letting that one get away.

“With like five minutes left, we were up by two goals, we went down to the locker room and put on our gear and stuff,” Perreault said. “It was pretty special.”

Carlson remembers not only winning the Calder Cup there but being on the wrong end of some Canada-U.S. Hatred. The defenseman had just scored the game-winner in the world junior championships in early 2010 to give the U.S. the gold when he played a game at MTS Centre against the Moose.

“I think that was the first time I ever got booed,” Carlson said. “It shows how passionate they are about it. It was fun. It’s all fun, and I guess it’s a good thing they were doing it.”

Asked if he thought he’d get the same treatment from Winnipeg Jets fans Thursday night, Carlson shook his head.

“I doubt that,” he said. “I think they forgot about it by now.”

Time might clear Carlson of boo-bird status, but for Neuvirth and his Bears teammates, forgetting about a special night in Winnipeg won’t happen anytime soon.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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