Neuvirth steps up in big way for Caps

It's a bird...it's a plane...it's not Superman, but backup goalie Michal Neuvirth that is saving the Capitals season.

Since coming in of relief of starter Tomas Vokoun and stopping all 14 shots he faced in a 5-2 loss at Ottawa on Feb. 22, Michal Neuvirth has stopped 58 of 61 shots in back-to-back wins over the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. 

This is important because Neuvirth bailed out Vokoun after he was pulled in two-straight games, and pulled the Caps out from rock-bottom following a 2-7-1 stretch for the club.

The club, which sits just one point from a playoff spot (with several games in-hand on teams ahead of them),  needed someone to step up and Neuvirth answered the bell. 

Neuvirth has provided the Caps the solid starter they thought they had in the veteran Vokoun the past few games. Against Montreal he held the fort and the team rode a pair of early goals to an easy win against the worst team in the East. But at Toronto, Neuvirth was sensational, making sensational save after save to gain the trust and confidence of the team skating in front of him. 

Since bailing out Vokoun for the second-straight game, Neuvirth has stopped 72 of 75 shots. He's played with the confidence that earned him a 27-12-4 record last season with a .917 save percentage and a respectable 2.45 GAA. 

Neuvirth is a winner, having won a Calder Cup in the Capitals' system. 

After a strong first full-season in the NHL after playing just 22 games the previous two seasons, "Neuvy" as his teammates call him thought he had a legitimate shot at the starting gig in D.C. 

Then Caps general manager George McPhee made a bold move by trading fellow netminder Semyon Varlamov, who split time with Neuvirth, to Colorado in the off-season with the intention of bringing in a veteran to key the crease for a potential Cup-contender. 

McPhee brought in veteran Tomas Vokoun on a dirt-cheap one-year, $1.5 million deal. Vokoun became the immediate starter, a fellow Czech like Neuvirth, whom the Caps hoped would provide stability between the pipes in addition to helping along the young goalie waiting in the wings. 

Vokoun hasn't been awful this season, posting a .917 save percentage right on his career mark, and a 2.52 GAA, also near his career mark of 2.56. But he's been pulled several times, including one after just five minutes in a key divisional matchup in Carolina last week on national T.V. He hasn't looked comfortable in D.C. this season, often dealing with more scrutiny than he ever faced in small-markets like Florida and Nashville.

Neuvirth's play over the past few games has to give coach Dale Hunter a tough choice down the stretch if he continues to play well: ride the hot-hand or go with the horse?

It's a tough call, and one that Michal Neuvirth is making tougher and tougher with each big save he makes and each win he posts for a team starving for points.