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Neuvirth blanks 'Canes for first NHL shutout

by Corey Masisak
RALEIGH, N.C. – RALEIGH, N.C. – Cam Ward was very good in net Wednesday night for the Carolina Hurricanes, but Michal Neuvirth proved to be a little bit better.

Neuvirth made 29 saves and the Washington Capitals spoiled the Hurricanes' home opener with a 3-0 victory at RBC Center. It was Neuvirth's first career shutout in his 31st appearance for the Capitals.

"I think we played a great game as a team," Neuvirth said. "For the first time I think we did everything right, and it was a big two points on the road. The shutout is just an unexpected bonus for myself."

Added coach Bruce Boudreau: "I thought that was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from the fourth line, the penalty killing, the goaltender was great – everybody did a good job."

The Capitals have now won two games in a row and stayed within a point of the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division. Carolina lost its first home game of the season after winning four of seven away from RBC Center to start the campaign. The Hurricanes opened the season with a pair of contests in Helsinki, Finland.

Ward turned aside 30 shots, but a controversial goal and two insurance markers from Nicklas Backstrom proved to be the difference.

Matt Hendricks registered the lone goal of the opening period. David Steckel collected the rebound of a John Erskine shot and slipped the puck to Hendricks, who chipped it into the net.

"It was just a hard-working shift by our line," Hendricks said. "Matt Bradley and Dave Steckel did a great job and big John Erskine gets the shot through there. Steckel stood his ground and made a nice, perfect pass there and all I had to do was get it on net."

Steckel had collided with Ward, but the goalie was outside the crease and Steckel had his back to him and the goal was allowed to stand at 10:47.

"I don't think it's a goal," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "I didn't agree with the call at all. I didn't agree with his interpretation. It's incidental contact, but I'm not looking for a penalty. I don't think there was an attempt to run Cam. That's how the rule reads, that's how I interpreted it and I think he got it wrong."

Backstrom made it a two-goal advantage 12:23 into the third period. Mike Knuble sent a shot from near the right wall on a rush that Ward directed to his right – and right onto Backstrom's stick for an easy put back into an open net.

It was Backstrom's second goal of the season – and the first created by Washington's top line in four games. He added a shorthanded empty-netter from near center ice to end any doubt.

"Boy, I was really happy to see that – for Nicky to get a goal and for [Alex Ovechkin] to get an assist," Boudreau said. "You could see them pressing and you see them cheating a little bit to try and get the offense and a goal. Maybe that will get them back to playing like they normally can."

Both goaltenders made highlight-reel saves on the opposing team's superstar in the second period. Brooks Laich sent a pass to Alex Ovechkin on a mini 2-on-1, but Ward stuck his right arm out and turned away the shot.

Eric Staal had a one-timer from the right circle on the power play after a perfect diagonal pass from below the goal line on the far side from Sergei Samsanov, but Neuvirth came across his crease and snatched Staal's shot with a glove save.

"I kind of knew he was right there and I was just trying to get across as soon as possible," Neuvirth said. "That was a big save for us."

Neuvirth was making his eighth start in nine games for the Capitals this season in part because his partner in net, Semyon Varalmov, has been slowed by a groin injury. Varlamov returned from the injury to relieve an ill Neuvirth against Boston last week and start the second half of a home-and-home with the Bruins, but he did not make the trip to Raleigh and has been replaced on the roster by Braden Holtby.

The 22-year-old netminder from the Czech Republic is now 6-2-0 on the season. Neuvirth is tied with Montreal's Carey Price for the League lead in wins, and he now sports a .929 save percentage.

"He's been outstanding," Hendricks said. "He's a young kid, but he's been playing with a lot of poise and stature. He's been phenomenal for us. It is really nice to know you have a goalie you can rely on it tough situations."

Ward has also been a workhorse this season, but that was expected from a guy with a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume. Maurice has tabbed Ward in seven of the team's first eight games.

Staal finished with six shots on net, but also five that missed the mark. As a team the Hurricanes put 29 shot on Neuvirth, but had 31 that were either blocked or off target.

"It wasn't a lack of willingness or want, it's just the bodies weren't doing what the brains was telling them," Maurice said. "[It] just looked like that half-step we rely on wasn't there."
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