Philipp Grubauer found out Saturday night that he’d be making his second career NHL start Sunday at the storied Madison Square Garden in an important game against the New York Rangers.
The Capitals coaching staff was playing a bit of a hunch, going with the 22-year-old rookie netminder to give Braden Holtby a night off but knowing how eager Grubauer was to perform well on an NHL stage. He rewarded their decision and was nearly flawless, stopping all but one of the 31 shots he faced to secure his first NHL victory and help propel Washington to a 4-1 win over the Rangers.
“It’s really exciting. I would lie if I didn’t say I was nervous, biggest stage here. Madison Square Garden it’s like the most historical building,” Grubauer said. “It’s great. I had a lot of fun.”
Grubauer handled all the Rangers threw at him through the first two periods, giving the Capitals an opportunity to take a commanding lead and offering some stability in the process. He turned aside a rebound chance for Michael Del Zotto moments after Steve Oleksy’s goal made it 2-0 and thwarted a point-blank look for Derek Stepan and then another opportunity on the rush by Derick Brassard in the second period as well.
“I thought he was good, he made some really tough saves, ones where he had to come out and challenge and play aggressive and those aren’t easy ones to do, especially with this atmosphere and everything,” Karl Alzner said. “It was a really good game for him. I think we were all pretty impressed and didn’t seem to get too rattled out there so that was nice.”
For as impressed as the Capitals were with the young netminder, Grubauer was equally complimentary of his teammates crediting them with making important plays to make his task easier. Washington blocked 17 shots Sunday night but also did a superb job of picking off passes and derailing the Rangers offensive possessions so they couldn’t generate second and third chance opportunities.
“Gotta give those guys in front of me a lot of credit. I feel like [New York] didn’t have those chances in front of the net, they kept it pretty much to the outside which was great for me,” Grubauer said of his teammates. “They helped me out. They cleared everything out and they talked to me…even the forwards, credit to everybody it was an amazing job by everybody.”
As the game continued on and Grubauer inched closer to not only his first win but perhaps a shutout, the Capitals did what they could to help protect his perfect outing. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as Benoit Pouliot tipped a puck in the slot with 1:53 remaining in regulation to spoil the shutout bid.
“He was awesome, he looked very calm back there and it’s one of those things when a goalie looks calm he saves a lot of pucks. I think he made a lot of saves at key times in the game and we felt really bad that one went in at the end,” Jason Chimera said. “Guys on the bench were talking, ‘Get it deep for Philipp’ and guys are trying to get it deep, they didn’t want him to get scored on and guys are going to feel bad about that one.”
Washington argued that the goal might have come on a high stick, but to no avail. Still, it was a memorable night for Grubauer.
“It would have been nice but I got the win,” Grubauer said, “And that’s all that matters.”
More on the Capitals’ win to come Monday in Five Thoughts.