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Neuvirth pilots Flyers' revival against Capitals

Philadelphia goaltender shuts down former team twice to force Game 6

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Three seasons ago, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby were competing against each other to be the Washington Capitals' No. 1 goaltender.

Holtby ultimately won that job. As for Neuvirth, he has since played for three other teams, but has re-emerged as a legitimate threat to Holtby this week by helping the Flyers get back into their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Capitals.

Neuvirth, selected 34th in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Capitals, has been a one-man show since replacing Steve Mason (69th in 2006) for Game 4 of the series against his former team, stopping 75 of 76 shots in two straight wins. He had a postseason NHL career high 44 saves in a 2-0 victory in Game 5 at Verizon Center on Friday, setting Flyers records for saves in a Stanley Cup Playoff shutout and regulation playoff win.

"It was an amazing [Game 5]; I was seeing the puck well and every rebound was going my way," said Neuvirth, who was one of five players who took part in an optional skate at Flyers Skate Zone on Saturday. "It just wasn't me, though. It was the whole team. We battled hard and it was a big win."

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: Neuvirth denies two chances

Neuvirth has helped the Flyers to creep back into this best-of-7 series, which the Capitals lead 3-2. He'll again oppose Holtby in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday (noon ET: NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Neuvirth was asked if there is any added incentive playing against the team that gave up on him.

"No, I don't think so," Neuvirth said. "It's still the NHL playoffs. I would be motivated if we were playing someone else."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said, "It'd be pure speculation on my part, but knowing [Neuvirth] the way I do, I would think that's pretty low on his list of priorities or motivations."

Whatever his motivation, Neuvirth was a huge reason the Flyers were able to win Game 5 despite the Capitals' 44-11 edge in shots on goal.

"We're not going to play like we played [in Game 5] in Game 6," Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. "We had one unbelievable performance and that was from Michal, and we fully intend to go out [on Sunday] and have a 100 percent better game. We know we didn't play our best hockey and Neuvirth was our best player, but sometimes you need that."

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: Neuvirth robs Beagle with left skate

Neuvirth's play is all the more remarkable considering he was recently out with a lower-body injury sustained against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 16. His first game back from injury was the Flyers' regular-season finale against the New York Islanders on April 10, when he made 15 saves in a 5-2 victory. At the time he replaced Mason in the playoffs, the Capitals were averaging 4.00 goals per game in taking a 3-0 series lead.

"That Islanders game helped me a lot to get my confidence back," Neuvirth said. "In my first game in the playoffs I didn't know what to expect but I battled through and I'm feeling really good now."

Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who has one assist in this series, said he is glad to see Neuvirth getting the recognition he deserves.

"I think he just enjoys the game, loves the pressure," Giroux said. "Not a lot of goalies are going to say he wants more shots because it keeps him in the game. He's a really good teammate, and it's fun to be able to go to battle with him."

Neuvirth last played with the Capitals in the 2013-14 season; he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on March 5, 2014. He would play 29 games in two seasons with Buffalo before a trade to the New York Islanders on March 2, 2015.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: Neuvirth backstops Flyers in 2-0 win

He went 1-3-1 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .881 save percentage in five games for the Islanders. The Flyers saw enough in Neuvirth to sign him to a two-year contract on July 1.

"You certainly look at everything, and he had a good resume, and we liked him," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "We meet in the summer about all the holes we had to fill, and Michal was at the top of our list."

At the time, Neuvirth had a 2.73 GAA and .912 save percentage in 168 NHL games spanning seven seasons. In 32 regular-season games in 2015-16, Neuvirth went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 GAA. His .924 SV% was fifth among goalies with at least 20 games played.

Neuvirth has a history of performing well in the playoffs at every level. He won an Ontario Hockey League championship with the Plymouth Whalers in 2006-07 and won American Hockey League Calder Cup championships in back-to-back years with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010, earning AHL playoff MVP honors in 2009.

"He had a terrific performance [in Game 5 against the Capitals]," Hextall said. "He was on his game, he was focused. He was really a calming influence. We didn't start to panic, and in the past we have. I think Neuvirth had something to do with that."

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