With the loss of Jonathan Bernier imminent and longtime starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov entering the final year of his contract, Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was in the market for a goaltender last summer.
Sakic decided his target was then-Washington Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer –trading a second round pick to Washington to acquire the goalie, and using the Avs’ cap space to take on Brooks Orpik’s contract. After months of inconsistency, the gamble didn’t appear as though it was going to pay off. One start changed all of that, though.
On February 23rd, on the second night of a back-to-back, Grubauer was thrown to the wolves on the road against the Central Division champion Nashville Predators. Behind a tired team, Grubauer stood on his head with a 38-save shutout performance in what his first start in nearly three weeks. Just a week later, with Varlamov struggling, Grubauer got the net back again and has not looked back since.
Since that game in Nashville, the 27-year-old who had struggled to find any rhythm for most of the season, has been the model of consistency for the Avs, and has arguably been the most important player down the stretch.
In his 18 appearances since Feb. 23, Grubauer has not had a single start with a save percentage below .900. In fact, in 14 of those starts, Grubauer posted a save percentage of .931 or higher – showing just how dominant he’s been. And in the playoffs, Grubauer has taken his game to new levels.
In Round 1, Grubauer continued to be a steady, calming presence in net for the young Avalanche. The athletic goaltender also continually made crucial saves, none bigger than his dazzling left pad save on Mikael Backlund in overtime of Game 4.
According to the advanced data from Sean Tierney, Grubauer has been the best goaltender in the opening round of the playoffs, with 4.205 goals saved above average. He finished round one with a .939 save percentage and a minuscule 1.90 goals against average. More than the numbers, though, his clutch saves helped the Avs extenguish the Flames, especially in the overtime victories.
In Washington, Grubauer, was one of the league’s best backups behind one of the more consistent goaltenders in the league in Braden Holtby. When Holtby struggled last year as Washington approached the playoffs, Grubauer then took over as the starting goaltender.
After just two games, Grubauer lost his net to Holtby, and the rest is history, as Washington went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Despite his strong play as a backup with the Capitals, Grubauer was relatively unproven as a starter in the NHL. So, the acquisition and subsequent three-year contract Grubauer was definitely a gamble by Sakic. With the Avs headed to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2008, behind the strong play of Grubauer, it appears Sakic’s gamble is starting to pay off.