By sticking with Philipp Grubauer in net for Game 2, the Washington Capitals are taking a page from the Philadelphia Flyers‘ most recent goaltending decision.
Of course, it was an entirely different book after the Pittsburgh Penguins chased Brian Elliott in a 7-0 drubbing in the first game of their series. Grubauer was hardly to blame for allowing four goals on 27 shots in an undisciplined Game 1 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But after Elliott rebounded to validate coach Dave Hakstol’s decision to go back to him, and Philadelphia tied the Battle of Pennsylvania at a game apiece, Washington’s Barry Trotz didn’t hesitate in going back to Grubauer in a crucial spot (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) instead of switching to Braden Holtby.
”There was nothing in that game that you’d say, why you would make a change?” Trotz said. ”Philipp’s been really good. … So, we’ll go back with Grubi; I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and we’ll be ready.”
Goaltending could make all the difference for the Flyers against the Penguins and the Capitals against the Blue Jackets. But the two teams going into Sunday down 2-0 in their series are getting incredible play at the position and are still in trouble. In the Western Conference, Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk almost stole Game 1 for the overmatched Wild against the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets, and Los Angeles‘ Jonathan Quick has stopped 81 of 84 shots and lost twice to the Vegas Golden Knights.
No one would confuse Elliott with Quick based on his history of playoff struggles and his hook-worth performance when he gave up five goals on 19 shots in the series opener. But he stopped 34 of 35 shots to steal home ice from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions going into Game 3 Sunday (3 p.m., NBC).
”I thought he was our first star,” Hakstol said. ”He battled hard and made big saves at key times. I think that’s probably the most important thing.”
Dubnyk has been one of Minnesota’s most important players so far, but has been hung out to dry against an offensively potent Winnipeg team. He made 37 saves in Game 1, 40 more in Game 2 and the Wild still go home (7 p.m. EDT, USA) trying to avoid falling behind 3-0.
Playing without injured No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter, the Wild have been outshot 84-37, putting pressure on Dubnyk to be the hero.
”You’re not going to win many getting 14 shots, 15 shots, 20 shots,” winger Zach Parise said. ”There’s just not a lot of room for error. He’s playing great. He’s giving us a chance. And we’re not really giving ourselves much of a chance.”
Quick has given the Kings even stronger goaltending, including 54 saves in a double-overtime loss at Vegas on Friday night. It’ll help Los Angeles to get top defenseman Drew Doughty back from his one-game suspension for Game 3 (10:30, NBCSN), which might be enough of a boost if Quick continues to stop this high a volume of shots.
”You’re just trying to make the next save,” Quick said. ”It’s a playoff game. You have to stay in the moment. Just like everyone. Just try and make the next save.”
Grubauer, who started just his second NHL playoff game Thursday, is staying in the moment so much he’s expecting to start until Trotz tells him otherwise. Washington’s coach deemed it a game-to-game decision, so even though Grubauer wasn’t bad, adjustments are necessary with the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner ready at a moment’s notice.
”You just look at the tape, I made some adjustments and worked on it today in practice,” Grubauer said.
Counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky has spent countless hours at practice trying to sharpen his game for the playoffs after struggling in three previous appearances. Bobrovsky stopped 27 of 30 shots in Game 1 against the Capitals and gives Columbus some high-level consistency in net that few playoff teams can count on.
”We’re just happy to see Bob play like Bob,” captain Nick Foligno said. ”We don’t need him to be the superstar. It’s just that’s his capabilities.”
The Blue Jackets will be without center Alexander Wennberg for Game 3 after a hit from the head by Washington’s Tom Wilson that went unpunished beyond a minor penalty. Coach John Tortorella didn’t care about the lack of punishment and is more worried about how 21-year-old Sonny Milano handles his second postseason game.
”There’s still a lot of things he needs to learn, but he can make an offensive play,” Tortorella said. ”So we’re going to give him a whack at this here and see where we go.”
The Capitals expect to get fourth-line center Jay Beagle back after missing the past four games with an upper-body injury, and should still have right winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman Michal Kempny in the lineup.
Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang will at least travel to Philadelphia after taking a maintenance day off Saturday. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he was giving Matt Dumba a rest after playing over 57 minutes and expects the defenseman to be good to go for Game 3.
Columbus’ Nick Foligno and brother Marcus, a forward for Minnesota, are in the playoffs together for the first time and got off to a rough-and-tumble start. Nick took a slap shot to the face Thursday night, and Marcus got involved in a scrap late in Minnesota’s loss Friday night.
The two text regularly to give each other tips. Marcus had an easy one for Nick after the puck to the cheek.
”He said: `You’re an idiot. That’s what they pay Bob for,”’ Nick said. ”It’s pretty funny. It’s awesome. You don’t realize how special it is, but I raced back after dinner to watch your brother play in the playoffs. It’s a pretty cool feeling, so you want to see him do well.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh, freelance reporter W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas, and The Canadian Press contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey