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Caps' cool goalie Neuvirth: 'As dry as they come'

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth looks too cool to be true.

The 23-year-old rookie answers questions about the Stanley Cup playoffs as if he were filling out a boring government form at the post office. This is a kid who said, with a straight face, that his NHL postseason debut would be no big deal because he had won championships in the minors.

"He's just as dry as they come," goaltending coach Arturs Irbe said with a laugh. "No, it's the surface. And that's the way we want that surface to be. ... He's a fiery, competitive guy, but you won't ever see it."

Coach Bruce Boudreau twisted a phrase recently when he said Neuvirth was "as calm as a cucumber," but no one disputes the description. And no one is disputing the coach's decision to make Neuvirth the No. 1 goalie for the playoffs: "Neuvy" has been the NHL's best so far in the postseason, allowing only eight goals in a five-game series victory over the New York Rangers in the first round.

"He doesn't get rattled," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "It's a good thing to have in a goalie. Bad bounces can happen, and good shots, and sometimes there's nothing you can do. And the way he's able to leave those in the past and move forward, it's a great demeanor to have, especially in a goalie."

Neuvirth won the job over Semyon Varlamov, although the season-long battle between the youngsters didn't play out as planned. Both missed considerable time with injuries, but Neuvirth was usually the healthier of the two, getting 45 starts to Varlamov's 25.

Late in the season, and again during the Rangers series, the fans' chants of "Noooo-veee" showed just how important he's become to a team that is scoring fewer goals than a year ago.

But now that he's gone through the intensity of an NHL playoff series, Neuvirth must surely appreciate that it's a world of difference from winning American Hockey League titles with the Hershey Bears.

Well, maybe not.

"Every playoffs is the same thing, you know," Neuvirth said Wednesday. "You need to get four wins to win a series. There was a lot of pressure on us down in Hershey, same as here. Obviously NHL is best league in the world, so there's a little difference, but every playoffs is really huge."

Despite the even-tempered exterior, Neuvirth concedes he can run the gamut of emotions. They're just usually not on display.

"A lot of things get me nervous, but I try not to show it," he said. "It's my game. Don't get excited after a good game. Or after a bad game, I don't want to get too low. I just try to stay always positive."

Neuvirth admits he had some tough adjustments after coming to North America from his native Czech Republic in 2006, but he picked up English quickly and successfully navigated the various stops in junior hockey. His family stays up until the wee hours to watch his games back home, and his faithful companion in the States is his dog, a blue shar pei named Tractor.

Boudreau couldn't care less about Neuvirth's choice of pets as long as puck stays out of the net. Goalie drama had become a Capitals rite of spring since the coach arrived in 2007, with a cast of characters that has included Olie Kolzig, Cristobal Huet, Jose Theodore and Varlamov. The Rangers series is the first under Boudreau in which there has been absolutely, positively no controversy over the choice of starter.

While the players went through practice Wednesday still not knowing when the next series will start or who the opponent will be, at least they know that No. 30 will be wearing the goaltender's mask.

The Capitals learned later they would be facing No. 5 seed Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Lightning advanced with a 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh.

Boudreau is known for claiming that he rarely communicates with his goalies. Asked how much he speaks to Neuvirth these days, the coach answered: "I said 'Good morning."'

The job of talking to Neuvirth, it seems, belongs to Irbe.

"Archie talks enough for the both of us," Boudreau said. "We talk to him and he relays everything."

The report from Irbe, the longtime NHL goalie and winner of the Hart and Vezina trophies, is usually a good one. Neuvirth is as focused as ever.

"He knows what's at task, he has his goal, and he just won't wander off the road," Irbe said. "Nothing will make him go for a detour. It's his determination, and it may not seem that way because he's subtle and very cool and collected.

"It might seem like there's nothing much behind it, and maybe it's better that way. If he doesn't give out much, it means there's less ammo for anybody, and that's the way we want it."

NOTES: Boudreau's injury update on RW Mike Knuble, who missed the last two games of the Rangers series with a suspected hand injury: "I don't have a timetable, but it would be sooner rather than later. I think he'll be available in the second round at some point." ... D Mike Green, who was struck in the head by a puck in Game 5 of the first-round series, practiced again and is fine. ... The Capitals recalled F Mathieu Perreault, F Steve Pinizzotto and D Patrick McNeill from Hershey, giving the team insurance in case of more injuries during the playoffs.