Several aspects of the Washington Capitals’ playoff roster have been in question. With everything from injured players to the choice of healthy scratches, there has been plenty of buzz around the lineup. One area that hasn’t, surprisingly, is in net, where Michal Neuvirth has beyond validated Bruce Boudreau’s decision to start the rookie in the post season.
Many words were written about the choice Boudreau would have to make between Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, who played the majority of the last two playoffs for the Capitals. This controversy started as far back as training camp, when the debate was between which would get the start for Opening Night. All season long, every start was analyzed and argued over among the fans and media. One thing most agreed on was that the Caps would have to pick one to ride throughout the playoffs.
The main slight against Neuvirth was his lack of NHL playoff experience. Varlamov had replaced the “starter” (Jose Theodore) the last two Springs, and he proved himself to be an excellent post season goaltender. Neuvirth was less certain, and with so much on the line this year after two straight early exits, some believed the Caps should have gone with the more established choice. Boudreau disagreed, and the result has been an incredible performance from Neuvirth in his first five games.
With one shutout, Neuvirth is second in the playoffs in both goal against average (1.38) and save percentage (.946). He trails only Antero Niittymaki, who has played less than two games. In a post season involving goalies like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, and Roberto Luongo, that is a huge accomplishment for a rookie.
However, Neuvirth is used to playoff success. He helped lead the AHL’s Hershey Bears to the last two Calder Cup Championships, winning the playoff MVP award in the 2009 campaign. Both John Carlson and Karl Alzner were present for both championships, and in interview after interview they have attested to Neuvirth’s playoff ability. He has erased any and all concerns about his NHL playoff inexperience preventing him from getting the job done.
While he has proven himself, there is an asterisk next to this series in that it was against the New York Rangers. They aren’t a particularly offensive team, and it will be interesting to see how he fairs against a team with more talent. That may come in Round 2, as the Capitals could face the Canadiens, Lightning, or Penguins. He, and the Caps’ new defensive system, will be truly tested in the Conference Semi-Finals.