WASHINGTON, DC -- "What about the goaltending?"
It was the second-most frequently asked question about the Washington Capitals entering the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, right behind "How are these guys going to blow it again in the first round?"
Both questions were answered in the Capitals' 4-1 series win over the New York Rangers, who were eliminated in Washington's 3-1 victory on Saturday afternoon. It was the first time the Capitals have won a series in less than seven games under Coach Bruce Boudreau and as a franchise since 1998.
So they didn't blow it; and their rookie goalie showed he can be the backbone, as forward Jason Arnott called him, of successful playoff series.
Michal Neuvirth finished with a 1.38 GAA, a .946 save percentage and 1 shutout. And, in the end, he outdueled Henrik Lundqvist to advance.
"It means a lot to me," said Neuvirth on his win against the Rangers all-star keeper. "He's a top goaltender in this League. I was watching him a lot. I'm gonna learn something from him."
He faced 148 shots, made 140 saves and rarely looked rattled in the five-game victory — even when giving up the first three goals of Game 4.
"I think that's part of his game. He times everything right and he doesn't get too flustered," said defenseman John Carlson.
Nor does he fluster his defenders by going out of his way to make plays," according to defensemen Karl Alzner.
"He goes out there and he makes the easy play. He's been stopping the puck for us, he's been setting it and then he just gets out of the way," he said. "If you're not going to go out there and rip it up the wall to one of the forwards then that's exactly what we need. Just go out there and stop it."
Part of Neuvirth keeping things calm in the defensive zone was something the Capitals coaches instructed him to do with frequency in this series: Get a whistle whenever possible.
"That's what coaches told me. They want me to freeze puck every opportunity I have to freeze the puck," said Neuvirth.
That was an essential reason the Capitals finished 19-for-20 on the penalty kill: Freezing the puck and getting faceoff wins. Brooks Laich was 15-8 in shorthanded faceoffs for the series, and 55.1 percent overall. Boyd Gordon of the Capitals was at 69.1 percent on faceoffs overall.
Another factor in his freezing the puck, especially on home ice: The fans.
"We told him, 'Just try to get as many whistles as you can.' Slow the play down. We'll let the fans build it back up for us if we need the momentum," said Alzner. "Sure enough, it worked."
Neuvirth won his first Stanley Cup Playoff series, but he's not new to the postseason. He had 40 playoff games in the AHL, winning two Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears, sporting a 1.98 GAA.
"He seems to step his game up every time he needs to," said Carlson. "He's one of those big save goalies. He's got a knack for the playoffs, and he certainly stepped his game up.
Said Coach Bruce Boudreau: "I'm telling you, a lot of people don't know his name too much, at least outside our circles -- but he's a heck of a goalie."