Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy on Tuesday and it took just one day to prove why he’s deserving of the award as the NHL’s best goaltender. And he did it against one of the other finalists in Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Avalanche were outshot 41-25 by the Knights in Game 2 Wednesday night but were victorious by a score of 3-2 after a Mikko Rantanen overtime goal at Ball Arena.
The Avs, who were outplayed for much of the second and third periods, are 6-0 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and lead the Golden Knights 2-0 heading into Las Vegas for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday. Grubauer might have stolen Game 2 for Colorado.
For the first five games, the Avs relied on their high-powered top line to lead the way. But the story on Wednesday was the man they call Grubi.
He made 39 saves, including a pad stop during a late third-period power play for Vegas. Before that, he stopped Alex Tuch and Max Pacioretty on breakaways. Colorado was outshot 16-6 in the second period and Grubauer was “awesome,” according to Rantanen.
“He had a really, really good game,” Rantanen said of Grubauer. “He kept us in the game. He was the reason why we got to OT and then our special teams step up there. But Grubi, he was awesome and, for sure, the best player in the game.”
Having that top line that can do what Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Rantanen can do and then have a goalie that can steal games the way Grubauer can is a recipe for success.
This team — now on an 11-game winning streak — has what it takes. It’s just a matter of continuing to grind through what could be a long run to the Stanley Cup.
The Deen’s List
The Avs are perfect in their last 11 games dating to the regular season, where they won their last five to close out the regular season and clinch the Presidents’ Trophy.
But after sweeping St. Louis and winning the first two against Vegas, the Avs are just the third Presidents’ Trophy winners to start the post-season 6-0. The other two are the 1994 New York Rangers and the 1999 Dallas Stars. And yes, both of those teams ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
Could be their year.
The Saad factor
It was expected that the offseason acquisition of Brandon Saad was going to show its true value when the playoffs came around.
Saad was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in a four-player trade involving defenseman Nikita Zadorov. He’s won two Stanley Cups with Chicago and at the young age of 28, brings a team-leading 87 games of playoff experience and pedigree.
That’s paid off through six games. Saad scored the opening goal Wednesday, finding the back of the net for the fifth consecutive game — the third-longest in club history behind Claude Lemieux (seven in 1997) and Joe Sakic (seven in 1996).
“He’s a guy that’s performed in big moments his whole career,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He seems to get better as the season goes on.”
Solving Fleury early
Scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes was a game-changer. That’s twice now in this series, and putting two pucks past Fleury early was key.
Vegas started Fleury on Wednesday after Robin Lehner surrendered seven goals on 37 shots in Game 1. Fleury, 36, has been outstanding against Colorado this season. But like Game 1, the Avs scored twice in the opening frame.
The Avs have been shutout just twice over the past 102 games and both times Fleury was the opposing goaltender.
He’s one of the best goalies in the league at getting into a rhythm and getting stronger as the game goes on. Even though Saad’s goal was a whiffed shot that fortunately found its way through Fleury’s five-hole, it was still crucial because it broke the dam early.
Just as it did in Game 1, the Avalanche’s defensemen set up each of the first two goals — by Saad and fellow forward Tyson Jost. But unlike Sunday, it wasn’t the top line that was doing the scoring. Sam Girard had two assists and Ryan Graves and Devon Toews each had one.
Cale Makar also recorded an assist on the game-winning goal. Colorado’s defense continues to do its part offensively while shutting teams down most nights.
Rookies Sampo Ranta and Alex Newhook are both in the lineup because Nazem Kadri’s suspension opened up an extra roster spot. But it’s time for Bednar to consider using Carl Soderberg or Kiefer Sherwood on the fourth line and taking one of the kids out — or both.
Newhook played just 6:08 and took a minor penalty. Ranta saw just 5:56 of ice time and did not record the shot. Neither has been a factor in this series.