Heading into the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs there was a lot of debate over whether or not Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth would be able to keep pace with New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Through two games (and, yes, I know it's just two games) Neuvirth has emerged as Lundqvist's equal, if not superior between the pipes, leading the Capitals to two straight wins in which he has allowed a grand total of one goal.
Neuvirth's numbers have been nothing short of incredible, posting a 0.43 goals against average and a .979 save percentage.
Now, don't get me wrong, it's not as if Lundqvist is playing bad. His 1.76 goals against average and .922 save percentage are exceptional numbers. But when you play for a team that many predicted would struggle to score goals, there is no room for error, period.
To be fair, Neuvirth was hardly a lock to get the nod as the Capitals' starting netminder throughout the playoffs.
Neuvirth posted an impressive 27-12-4 record during the regular season, but with Braden Holtby (10-2-2 during the regular season) playing well down the stretch and Semyon Varlamov bringing a career 10-9 playoff record to go along with a strong .915 save percentage and 2.49 goals against average, nobody would have been shocked if Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau gave Varlamov the nod.
Neuvirth brought a tremendous AHL Playoff record to the table, having posted a 14-4 record in 2009-10 and 16-6 record in 2008-09. Neuvirth was a huge reason the Hershey Bears (the Capitals AHL affiliate) won back-to-back Calder Cup Trophies in 2008-09 and 2009-10; I mean, 30-10 over the past two playoff seasons? Wow!
In fact, Neuvirth was a combined 21-5 in the playoffs at the OHL level as well, so maybe the playoffs is just his time to shine?
OHL and AHL statistics do not always translate into NHL Playoff success, but when you consider Neuvirth's first two games, it appears as if history, albeit at another level, is repeating itself.
It's still early, but if Neuvirth keeps shutting the door the way he has over his entire playoff career and continues that trend into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the play of Henrik Lundqvist will not matter and the Washington Capitals will be heading to the second round.
Until next time,