Neuvirth after big game: 'It feels unbelievable'
Say this about Michal Neuvirth: the man speaks the truth. Asked how he felt heading into Friday night’s 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Capitals’ 25-year-old goaltender said, “I was nervous as hell. “My girlfriend told me, ‘Just do what you do,’ and I did.”
Neuvirth looked incredibly poised in his first start since Nov. 22, a 48-day stretch in which rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer stole his roster spot and prompted Neuvirth’s agent to ask for a trade. Neuvirth stopped 32 of 34 shots and was named the game’s No. 1 star.
“I thought he played a great game,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates, noting a “fantastic” save he made late in the game, likely a glove stop on Mason Raymond. “It’s well-documented. … He had to wait his turn. He did what he had to do. He was a professional. Obviously, I understand as a coach the guy’s frustrated, but the circumstances you can’t control. My job is to coach the team as best I can trying to get a win. He had good practice time, good for him.”
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The next question, of course, is which goalie gets the start against Buffalo on Sunday. Neuvirth? Grubauer, who was a healthy scratch Friday? Or Braden Holtby, who has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts? “Where we go from here, I don’t know,” Oates said.
While Neuvirth was enjoying a welcome back performance, Joel Ward was basking in the glow of scoring a game-winning goal in front of his mother, Cecilia, who made the trip down from his home town of Toronto. Ward parked himself in the high slot and waited what seemed like forever before getting enough of a slapshot to see the puck slip through the pads of Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. Ward fell down on the shot and celebrated while lying on his belly.
“It seemed like my mother was pretty eager to make this trip,” Ward said. “I do have a lot of friends and family [in Toronto] who were tuned in, for sure. It wasn’t one of my better shots. I was a little upset at first because of the way it came off my stick, but I got enough of it to go in.”