DENVER | Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer has found such a groove lately that he is turning back 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.
“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.”
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, 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 title.
For his day with the Cup, Grubauer took it to his hometown of Rosenheim, Germany. He even wore lederhosen while posing with the trophy.
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.”
Last season, the Avs were almost content with returning to the postseason 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 defenseman 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.”