Grubauer’s Performance Propels Avalanche Into Playoffs

DENVER — Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer has found such a groove lately that he is turning aside just about everything — including insinuations.

No, he says, he is not playing with a new-found boost of confidence (he doesn’t let himself ebb and flow like that). And no, he has not made any drastic changes over the last few weeks.

He has just been his steady, late-season self. The backup-turned-mainstay went 7-0-2 down the stretch as the Avalanche earned the last wild-card playoff spot in the West. Asked if Grubauer would be in net for Game 1 in Calgary on Thursday night, coach Jared Bednar wouldn’t tip his hand. It seems like a pretty safe bet.

Confidence Not an Issue for Grubauer

“Focused, determination, his work ethic, his will to succeed,” Bednar said as he rattled off traits of Grubauer. “His game was just OK for a stretch in the middle of the season and he’s a competitor. He wanted to be better and he worked through it. You study film and you watch and practice and you do the preparation to make yourself a better player come game time. He really did that and it showed.

“And confidence helps, too.”

Colorado Avalanche Patrik Nemeth Philipp Grubauer
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth watches as goalie Philipp Grubauer blocks a shot (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

There’s that word. Grubauer winces at the idea his confidence can change with any one game or any particular stretch. Like many goalies, he focuses on the smaller picture.

“You lose a game, you move on. You win a game, you move on. You never get too high or too low,” said the 27-year-old Grubauer, who routinely gets serenaded with chants of “Gruuuuu” by the home fans after big saves. “It’s not like you lose games because you don’t have confidence. It’s like you’re a step too late or not acting (quick) in the moment or not reading the game as well.”

Acquired in a trade with Washington last June, Grubauer entered the season as the backup to Semyon Varlamov, who missed the playoffs a year ago with a knee injury.

When Varlamov struggled this season, Grubauer was inserted. Then, both hit a rough patch as the Avalanche went 3-13-5 from Dec. 21 to Feb. 12 to slide down the standings. From there, they began to regroup and make up ground.

On Feb. 23 in Nashville, Grubauer found his rhythm as he posted a 38-save shutout. The German recorded three shutouts in a five-start span to join Patrick Roy (five times) as the only ones in franchise history to accomplish the feat.

Grubauer posted a 1.63 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage over his final nine starts. He maintains no sort of epiphany took place.

“Things weren’t working out early in the season,” said Grubauer, who was taken by Washington in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. “We didn’t play really great as a team. Now, everybody is working and making up for mistakes. It’s not one thing that dramatically changed.”

Grubauer provided a late spark last season in Washington. He finished strong down the stretch and started the first two playoff games before Braden Holtby replaced him in Game 2. Holtby went the rest of the way as the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.

For his day with the Cup, Grubauer took it to his hometown of Rosenheim, Germany. He even wore lederhosen while posing with the trophy.

Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer
Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

These days, he sees plenty of similarities between the Avs and Capitals.

“There’s a lot of potential here. We’ve got a great team,” Grubauer said. “We can do a lot here. I don’t think the experience is there yet that we had in Washington. We had to gain the experience in Washington and I think we’re picking up on that here.”

Avalanche Ready for the Playoffs

Last season, the Avs were almost content with returning to the post-season and lost in six games to Nashville in the first round. This season, it’s more a feeling they belong. They take on a high-scoring Flames team that’s led by Johnny Gaudreau, who had 36 goals and 99 points.

“Really good team,” Grubauer said. “We have to go in there and play our game and be aware of who’s on the ice. Every shift matters in the playoffs.”

So does a sizzling goaltender.

“He’s in a zone,” Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie recently said. “He’s playing unbelievable and giving us a chance every night. We hope he keeps going because he’s been outstanding.”


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Pat Graham, The Associated Press