In his own words, Michal Neuvirth was “pretty excited” when he found out that for the first time this season he’d be starting both of back-to-back games. It’s been something of a trying season for the 23-year-old who has never served as a backup goaltender during his career, but this weekend Neuvirth reminded everyone watching what he’s capable of when on the top of his game.
Neuvirth made 28 saves in Washington’s 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday for the team’s and his second win in as many nights. During a span of 24 hours, he stopped 58 of 61 shots to help the Capitals secure four important points.
This weekend marked the first time Neuvirth has recorded consecutive wins all season.
“Obviously I had a good game [Friday against Montreal] and I was pretty confident coming into this game,” Neuvirth said. “When your first save is a little bit breakaway and big stop, that got me going and I felt great the rest of the way.”
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Maple Leafs took a shot against Neuvirth, but it was a partial breakaway for Tyler Bozak. The Toronto center tried to go five-hole but the netminder made the stop to ensure that the Capitals’ wouldn’t lose any momentum from the quick start.
On this night, Neuvirth proved able to cover up errors from the teammates in front of him and bail them out if necessary, which is precisely what the Capitals need.
“He played well tonight. He made the big stops when he had to. That’s what you need from your goaltending,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s like you’re trying to keep the shots down, scoring chances especially down [but] when we do break down — it happens in the game; it’s a game of mistakes — he came up large tonight.”
Neuvirth looked poised throughout the bulk of the contest and perhaps his most stunning save of the night came with 7 minutes 49 seconds remaining in the second period. Matt Frattin shot the puck on net as the referee put his arm up for what would be a delayed call on Mike Green. The Capitals defenseman was tied up in front with Mikhail Grabovski and one of the two redirected Frattin’s shot, causing it to carom to the right side of the net.
Somehow, Neuvirth managed to move across the crease to snare a one-timer by Carl Gunnarson to keep the Capitals ahead 3-0.
If you missed it, below is Neuvirth’s save on Gunnarsson:
“Even with the 2-0 lead we started sitting back in the first, he made a couple of huge saves for us then. Throughout the whole game he made some unbelievable saves,” Jeff Halpern said. “He made some big stops, that’s part of the game too. You expect your goalie to make the easy ones and come up with a game-changer.”
And to think it’s only been 12 days since Neuvirth felt frustrated by a miscommunication on Feb. 13 that led him to believe he was the starter against the San Jose Sharks before the coaching staff opted to start prospect Braden Holtby.
This weekend, in his first starts since that night and Hunter’s comments that he wasn’t “standing on his head,” Neuvirth responded with the best way he could: by winning.
“It’s absolutely great,” Neuvirth said about the back-to-back victories. “Not even for myself but for the whole group. We knew we were playing good hockey but we proved that tonight, we can win hockey games on the road too.”
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