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Vegas rang and Philipp Grubauer answered the bell to put Avs in position to win President's Trophy

AJ Haefele Avatar
May 11, 2021

Listening to Jared Bednar dissect his team’s performance in postgame pressers has always been something I’ve enjoyed over the years. He’s honest and isn’t afraid to be pointed with his criticism and he tends to be a little more thorough than other coaches.

It was that history that made his immediate comments following Colorado’s 2-1 win over Vegas stand out the way they did. When asked about how the Avs managed to pull the two points against an opponent on top of their game, Bednar’s immediate response cut straight to the core:

“Simple. Goaltending. That was it. Without [Philipp Grubauer], we don’t have any chance in this one in my opinion.”

Bednar would go on to detail the areas in which Vegas excelled and Colorado struggled (basically all of them) but him singling out Grubauer was all anyone needed to know about the Avalanche victory tonight.

Grubauer stopped 36 of 37 shots, including multiple huge saves on an extremely questionable four-on-three Vegas power play in the first period.

After Alex Pietrangelo made it 1-0 just 8:11 into the game, the Avs almost immediately gave up an odd-man rush that ended with Alex Tuch missing an empty net as he slid the puck through the crease as Grubauer was out to take the initial shooter before he decided to pass across the crease.

That bit of good fortune was all Grubauer needed to lock down the Golden Knights for the rest of the night. While the Avs generated enough offense to slip two goals behind Robin Lehner, the only Avs who showed up to play the entire game was Grubauer.

The goaltending position is frequently viewed as the greatest weakness on another otherwise very well-respected Avalanche squad. No matter the injuries in front of him, the questions always come back to Grubauer and whether or not he’s good enough to backstop a team to the Stanley Cup. The shadow of doubt is constantly hanging over him, even though you’d never know it given how calm his demeanor is in all situations.

Even though the conversation about Colorado’s goaltending this season has been as much about the guys playing behind him, now that the postseason is on the doorstep the questions about him once again rise.

It’s always been interesting that his postseason contributions to Washington rang so loud when he started the first two games of their Stanley Cup-winning postseason. He struggled and was removed and watched Braden Holtby backstop the Caps to their postseason glory.

Two years ago, Grubauer wrestled the net away from Semyon Varlamov late in the regular season and played every postseason minute for the Avalanche. Now, that was a young team that pushed the veteran-laden San Jose Sharks to Game 7 in the second round. They weren’t really ready for the big moment yet and we saw that as the more experienced Sharks made what appears to be the final big push of this generation after a decade of coming up short with Hall of Fame talent.

Last year, that’s the experience that sticks in everyone’s craw. You see, Grubauer was excellent for the Avs in the run ended by the Sharks and he was posting another strong playoff performance last year when he got lit up for three goals in the first period of Game 1 against the Dallas Stars.

Grubauer stayed in despite the awful start and eventually wound up hurt, leaving the game and not appearing for the Avalanche the rest of the way. We all know what happened next. An already-injured Pavel Francouz struggled mightily until being removed for Michael Hutchinson, who became the second third-string goaltender to backstop an Avalanche playoff exit in the last three years.

For some reason, all of that goaltending baggage has been placed on Grubauer this year. Despite not being particularly injury-prone in his career, the fact that he got hurt in Game 1 last year has everyone spooked and worried it might happen again. It certainly could. That’s the nature of injuries. You just never know.

All Grubauer can control is showing up to the office and getting the job done. He’s been exceptional this year, posting numbers that will garner him some Vezina Trophy votes but probably not enough to make him a finalist. That’s just sort of how it goes with Grubauer, though. It always feels like he’s good but not quite good enough.

This year he’s posted very strong numbers with a 29-9-1 record, a .921 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against-average. He’s posted a career-high six shutouts, which is good for second in the NHL (behind old friend Semyon Varlamov). He’s backstopped an elite team at an elite level.

There are plenty of holes to poke in the resume, of course. Colorado has been the NHL’s best defensive team, for example, and he has seen roughly the same number of shots as Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas…except Grubauer has played about 220 more minutes than Fleury.

His workload has been easier, therefore his results have largely been dismissed outside of Colorado. When he hasn’t played, the Avs have watched a carousel of mediocre backups post middling numbers. Grubauer is Colorado’s ride-or-die in net.

Tonight, we saw what was essentially a playoff game between a team that could clinch the division title and essentially button up the President’s Trophy, too, give everything they had despite playing with just 15 skaters (10F, 5 D) due to injuries and salary cap restraints.

Grubauer was the last man standing between Vegas and a stress-free week of resting wounded bodies and getting a headstart on their playoff scouting plans. Grubauer was the last man standing between Vegas and home-ice advantage throughout the postseason, however deep their run may be.

At the sound of the final buzzer tonight, Grubauer was just the last man standing, daring you to bet against him one more time.

Any takers?

TAKEAWAYS

  • There’s no sugarcoating tonight’s performance: Vegas dominated Colorado…for two periods Shots on goal were 37-21, the kind of disparity we’ve regularly seen the Avs lay on teams, absolutely not the other way around. Vegas owned the advantage in attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances, and actual shots on goal through two periods. It was a Vegas showcase of their grit, talent, speed, and skill. It was a major test of Colorado’s resiliency and, as written above, Grubauer’s readiness to rise to the occasion when his team absolutely needs bailing out. Grubauer was the steadying force we’ve seen him be so often this season and very quietly Colorado figured things out in the third period. While shots on goal were 8-8 in the third, just two of those came at even strength for Vegas. The Avalanche gave up zero high-danger chances in periods two and three and cut the scoring chances from 23 in the first two periods to just four in the third. Vegas ran out of gas with the short bench and the Avs capitalized. In effect, it was the rope-a-dope as the Golden Knights punched themselves out of energy before the Avs were able to bring it home late. That wasn’t the plan and it surely wasn’t on purpose but that’s how it played out.
  • It’s probably unfair of me to say this after literal years of them being so good, so consistently dominant, but I’m a little worried about Colorado’s top line. They didn’t look explosive or dangerous at all tonight until Andre Burakovsky found himself replacing Gabe Landeskog in the third period and then they found a little juice. Colorado absolutely will not get anywhere in the postseason without that line leading the way. The entire team takes its cue from that trio. They set the tone on a nightly basis. When they’re off, things usually go haywire. We saw it again tonight and it’s been a little too common lately. I know it’s premature but if that trio struggles against Los Angeles this week and then again in the first part of the playoff series, it might be time to separate the iconic trio for a bit. They still have to play their way into forcing a change but this is go time. The regular season is essentially over. They need to find their A-game. I trust they will but I didn’t expect to be unsure about that group heading into the final two games of the regular season.
  • Nazem Kadri was very good again tonight. Three shots, seven hits and, next to Burakovsky, their most dangerous player throughout the game. He was great and his rush where he turned Alex Pietrangelo inside-out was impressive. It’s too bad Pietrangelo is also great and recovered just enough to disrupt Kadri from getting a high-grade scoring chance on the play.
  • Loved Ryan Graves tonight. Imperfect with the puck but that’s just reality. Made a number of strong defensive plays and really looked good. Loved his game. The last time I said that he followed with a week of looking not at all like an NHL player so hopefully that changes this time around.
  • The trio that combined for the game-winning goal was killer. You need your talent to rise up and while Alex Newhook and Conor Timmins are still rookies (and Newhook was in his fourth ever NHL game lol), they executed like seasoned vets on the game-winner. Just good, smart hockey from both players.
  • Not enough kudos in the world for J.T. Compher outworking two Vegas players at the goalmouth and tapping home Newhook’s feed to beat Lehner. Compher has had an incredibly frustrating year where he has yet to find any kind of rhythm and has not been a consistent producer at all. His role is all over the place and, frankly, he looks like Tyson Jost of year’s past –  a guy spending all of his ice time searching for his hockey soul instead of just going for it. Compher has scored some big goals in his career, however, and this just adds to the list. Good for him. He deserves good things to happen to him.

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