Michal Neuvirth didn’t see much work in the early going Saturday as the Capitals hosted the Montreal Canadiens. He only needed to stop one shot on goal in the opening 10 minutes and 12 seconds, in fact, as his teammates created a two-goal lead.
But as Montreal began to build momentum, pressure mounted on the 24-year-old Czech. The Canadiens would even the score, and as Washington continued its untimely habit of sitting back, it was Neuvirth who rose to the challenge of bailing out his teammates after each turnover or sloppy pass.
He finished with 39 saves in Washington’s 3-2 shootout win over the Canadiens, which allowed it to take a stronger hold of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously I’m pretty happy with my effort tonight, but my teammates, they did an outstanding job in the defensive zone,” Neuvirth said. “They had 40 shots, but they had a lot of shots from the outside.”
Neuvirth’s teammates weren’t quite as reserved in describing his work, particularly when it came to the stops he made in the third period.
Neuvirth has now won two consecutive games, both shootouts, since he came in late in the first period in Boston Thursday when Tomas Vokoun aggravated a groin muscle strain. With Vokoun unavailable for at least the rest of the regular season, perhaps even longer, this is a chance for Neuvirth to assert himself as the Capitals’ go-to netminder.
The Capitals see Neuvirth, who was last year’s playoff starter, working to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Michal made big saves,” Brooks Laich said. “He’s battled in there and with Tomas out again, it’s Michal’s show. He did a great job coming in, in Boston, and he played great again tonight. It’s good that he’s finding his game.”
The timely effort isn’t going unnoticed by Coach Dale Hunter either. Saturday was “a heck of a game by him. I don’t know what the scoring chances were but there were some good ones. Then at the power play at the end there were a lot of screens. He had to be sharp. A young man like that is stepping up when we really need him.”
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