During their 36 seasons in the NHL, the Washington Capitals have employed five Hall of Fame skaters: defensemen Rod Langway, Larry Murphy and Scott Stevens; and wings Dino Ciccarelli and Mike Gartner.
All but Ciccarelli — who was acquired (with defenseman Bob Rouse) for Gartner and Murphy in a March 1989 trade – were teammates for six playoff springs that produced a 3-6 series record. But that’s a story for another day.
If the offensive-minded Murphy could moved to forward, the Caps would have a solid quintet.
Of course, a key piece is missing: the goalie. In nearly four decades of play, the Caps have never had a Hall of Fame netminder. The only teams that have been in the NHL as long who can equal that futility in goal are New Jersey (whose drought will end as soon as Martin Brodeur retires), Pittsburgh and Vancouver (Roberto Luongo might be enshrined one day).
And even the Penguins wouldn’t have won their three Stanley Cups without fine play from goalies Tom Barrasso and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Not that the Caps have had a bunch of sieves between the pipes. Jim Carey (1996) and Olie Kolzig (2000) won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie while Al Jensen and Pat Riggin shared the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in 1983-84.
But come playoff time, only two goalies had career winning records for the Caps: Don Beaupre (18-15 from 1989-94) and current backup Semyon Varlamov (10-9). Only Bob Mason (.937), Kolzig (.928), Varlamov (.915), Riggin (.909) and Byron Dafoe (.905) stopped as many as 90 percent of the pucks hurled their way.
Which is why Michal Neuvirth’s postseason debut in Washington’s 2-1 overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals was so stirring. Neuvirth handled all but one of the 25 Rangers shots for a .960 save percentage and he became just the third Caps goalie with a winning playoff record.
It was just one game and the 22-year-old Czech could come apart in Game 2 tonight at Verizon Center, but if Neuvirth maintains his Game 1 form as the playoffs roll on, that would go a long way towards Washington finally hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.