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Neuvirth's playoff success continues with Caps

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- Michal Neuvirth has defeated an impressive list of goaltenders in postseason series in his brief professional career, but Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers moves to the top of the list.

Neuvirth made 26 saves Saturday as the Washington Capitals closed out the Rangers in five games in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. It was the ninth postseason series Neuvirth has been a No. 1 goaltender for since leaving junior hockey and he's now 9-for-9.

"He's a great goalie," Caps defenseman John Carlson said. "I thought from Day One he was a great goalie. He just steps his game up every time he needs to. He's just one of those big-save goalies. When the momentum is going the other way he makes a big stop and we get it back. He's got a knack for the playoffs."

Added Neuvirth: "It is unbelievable feeling. The crowd was unbelievable. I'm probably never going to forget about this night."

Carlson has been with Neuvirth for most of those nine series. The first eight came with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League, as Neuvirth backstopped the club to back-to-back Calder Cup championships.

He bested a few other elite goaltending prospects during those runs, including Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Bernier. This was different though. Lundqvist is established as one of the top goalies in the world.

Neuvirth matched Lundqvist in a tight, low-scoring series. If the Rangers had an advantage going into this series, most people probably thought it was net. That proved not to be the case.

"I think [Neuvirth] was great. I think Lundqvist was great too," said Nicklas Backstrom, who has played with Lundqvist for Sweden's national team. "It was two great goaltenders out there. I think both are great goalies, but I think in this series [Neuvirth] was a little bit better."

The 23-year-old rookie from the Czech Republic allowed eight goals in five games. He is likely to finish the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the top goals against average (1.38) and save percentage (.946) in the League.

Of the eight goals the Rangers scored in this series, none could really be categorized as "soft." New York had to work extremely hard to create offensive chances and Neuvirth never game the Rangers momentum by allowing a goal on an easy shot.

"He didn't give them a chance," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He was great covering up pucks and he didn't allow rebounds. Then we get chances to change and slow it down when we wanted to do that. I'm telling you -- a lot of people don’t know his name too much, at least outside our circles but he's a heck of a goalie."

Neuvirth, who spent the entire regular season in a competition with Semyon Varlamov to be Washington's No. 1 goaltender, now has as many NHL postseason series wins as his Russian counterpart. While questions about who would be in the Capitals net dominated the storylines at times for this franchise the past two postseasons, Neuvirth is clearly in command of the spot -- for now.

"Every game is a big opportunity," Neuvirth said. "It has been a good experience for myself just to play with these guys. We've been good so far and we've got to keep doing the same job."

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