Caps, Neuvirth continue to stymie Rangers

Washington Capitals' Jason Arnott celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers with teammates...

Washington Capitals' Jason Arnott celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers with teammates Alex Ovechkin and Marco Sturm. (REUTERS/Jim Young)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Perched at the interview podium in front of a sea of cameras, notepads and microphones, the normally unflappable Michal Neuvirth finally appeared flustered.

Yes, this was the same Michael Neuvirth who had remained remarkably cool and calm en route to posting his first career post-season shutout on Friday evening, refusing to flinch even when New York Rangers superpest Sean Avery decided to take up residence right in his face.

Yet try as they might, Avery and the Rangers could not rattle the Washington Capitals rookie goaltender, who had just blanked the visitors 2-0 at the Verizon Center.

No, the only person who managed to do that was Neuvirth’s teammate, Alex Ovechkin.

Having brilliantly contained his emotions all night, Neuvirth’s found himself blushing as Ovechkin, sitting right beside him at the post-game press conference, described him as “great.”

Truth be told, even if Neuvirth is embarrassed at receiving such high praise, Ovechkin is right on the mark.

Through two games of this best-of-seven first round series, the Caps rookie has indeed been “great” at times, allowing just one goal in 138 minutes, 24 seconds of play.

To this point, you’ve been outstanding, kid. Learn to deal with it.

“I feel pretty good about my game right now,” Neuvirth admitted.

Even when the Rangers often piled on top of him during post-whistle scrums, pretending that he was a tackling dummy?

“This is playoffs,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a lot of pressure on eveyone. There are going to be scrums around the net. But, like I said, this is playoffs and, for me, I’ve got to handle this stuff.

“They were coming hard at me. My defence did an outstanding job.”

Neuvirth certainly has been a key cog in allowing the Capitals to head to New York for Games 3 and 4 with a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, But there have been some other key factors as well, notably a switch in philosophy by coach Bruce Boudreau that has the high-octane Caps taking a defence-first approach aimed at smothering the opposition.

Consider the Rangers smothered.

“(Our players) have been buying in since the beginning of December,” Boudreau said. “They just want to win.

“The important thing is that they get success. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve won a lot of awards and that doesn’t mean anything to them now.”

On the other hand, shutting down the Rangers does.

And they’ve done exactly that. Consider that the Broadway Blueshirts have mustered just 47 shots on goal through almost seven periods of playoff hockey, partially because the Caps have taken away their space, partially because Ranger sharpshooters like Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski have gone missing in action.

Curiously, Rangers coach John Tortorella claims he is not alarmed by his team’s lack of offence. Maybe he should be.

“I thought we played much better (than in Game 1),” Tortorella said. “I thought it was much more the style that we play ... We’ll try to get one ourselves as we head to our building.”

Easier said than done.

The Caps got all the goals they needed in a span of just 1:57 early in the second period courtesy of Jason Chimera and Jason Arnott. Neuvirth took over from there, blanking the Rangers even when Avery was causing havoc in his crease.

Having been a healthy scratch in seven of the previous 14 games, Avery was inserted into the lineup to help the Rangers forecheck and stir things up. He did both.

In fact, Avery already had tongues wagging a full seven hours before the opening faceoff.

Asked after the Rangers morning skate what he thought of Game 1 between his Rangers and the Caps, Avery’s response raised a few eyebrows.

“I didn’t watch it,” he said.

Was he joking?

Only Avery knows for sure.

This much we do know: if he and his teammates don’t find a way to solve Neuvirth, this could be a very short series.


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