It was a short-lived recall for Philipp Grubauer, but in the 24 hours he spent with the Capitals this week, the organization’s top goaltending prospect managed to accomplish one of his life-long goals.
Grubauer, 21, made his NHL debut in a relief effort Wednesday night and was the lone bright spot in Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He played the final 25 minutes 5 seconds after starter Braden Holtby was pulled, and stopped all of the 14 shots he faced.
“It was a dream come true. I dreamed about this since I started playing hockey,” Grubauer said. “It was amazing. I try to step up and give those guys confidence and show the organization that I can do something as well.”
Grubauer was reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears Thursday, a day after being recalled on an emergency basis when Michal Neuvirth fell ill and was unable to serve as back up in Philadelphia. Washington also reassigned forward Casey Wellman, who was a healthy scratch each of the past two games, to the Bears on Thursday.
While Grubauer, the latest in the Capitals pipeline of young goaltending talent, didn’t have much time to make his mark on this particular callup, he offered a glimpse of the future and showed why the organization has been so impressed by his maturity and poise.
After Holtby allowed a fourth goal to the Flyers in the second period, Grubauer didn’t have much time to think about the fact that he was entering an NHL game for the first time as he composed himself and came off the bench.
“Well of course I was nervous the first time, but once the puck drops it’s every other game. It’s like every other game in the AHL. I couldn’t really prepare for it,” Grubauer said. “You’re a little bit nervous before. Everybody’s who’s not is kind of lying. As soon as the puck drops, it’s all about business. It doesn’t matter if I get thrown in or [if] I start.”
Grubauer didn’t face too much work from the Flyers but he maintained his composure and prevented any further damage on the scoreboard. It’s not an easy situation for any netminder to be thrown into a game in relief, let alone to make an NHL debut, but Grubauer handled the task well.
Holtby knows a thing or two about relief efforts, as he also came off the bench to make his first NHL appearance back on Nov. 5, 2010, against the Boston Bruins.
“Gruby came in and did an outstanding job, so it’s good to see him get some action,” Holtby said. “He looked calm. He stopped the bleeding to give us a chance to come back. He did great.”
Under usual circumstances Grubauer would have started the 2012-13 season in the AHL, but because of the trickle-down effect from the NHL lockout, he was pushed back into the East Coast Hockey League for the first few months.
Grubauer took it in stride, knowing that his extended time in the ECHL wasn’t a reflection of his play but because the Capitals wanted to ensure he had a consistent workload. With Holtby spending the lockout in Hershey, the only place he could do so was with the Reading Royals.
Grubauer went 19-5-1 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .912 save percentage with Reading and in his first 12 appearances with Hersheyhe is 6-4-1 with a 2.10 GAA and .928 save percentage.
“Nothing I could do about the thing in Reading,” Grubauer said when he spoke with reporters before the game in Philadelphia. “When you look at it, it’s been amazing. I’ve been in the [AHL] for a couple weeks ago, played only  games and now I’m up here. It’s amazing how it all works and how fast it all goes. I try to soak it in today and get that first NHL taste.”
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