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23-year-old Michal Neuvirth, a rookie this season, was spectacular in the first round of the playoffs, avoiding falling fate to another Capitals collapse as he shut down the New York Rangers in five games.
Neuvirth was second among all goaltenders in the Conference Quarterfinals with a .946 save percentage and led all netminders with a stunning 1.38 goals-against average (GAA). Neuvirth held the Blueshirts to just a single goal in the series-opening and series-closing games and also posted a 22-save shutout in Game Two.
However, Neuvirth is still quite young, and those five postseason games were the first five of his career. Will he fall prey to the mounting pressure and tougher offenses, such as the Lightning's devasting combination of Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier, down the stretch? Quite possibly. And, if so, the Capitals don't have much else to turn.
Backup Semyon Varlamov is also very young, just 23, and had just 25 starts this past year, rendering him at least a little rusty. Additionally, Varlamov was fine in last year's first round but was still the goaltender who was in goal as Washington blew their first round series against Montreal. Beyond Varlamov, the Caps can only turn to another prospect, Braden Holtby, who was spectacular in limited NHL regular season action yet was 2-4 with a 3.01 GAA and .893 save percentage in a first round loss in the AHL playoffs.
The Capitals new defensive style and stronger goaltending base helped them win at least one series, but could such an inexperienced group of goalies come back to haunt them? We think it might, and that's why we'll call it a huge X Factor for the second round.