Philip Grubauer had a strong first season with the Colorado Avalanche, as he put together an unforgettable late-season stretch to help the club reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rosenheim, Germany, native joined the Avalanche last summer in a trade with the Washington Capitals on June 22, 2018 at the NHL Draft. During the previous 2017-18 campaign, Grubauer was a part of the Capitals' Stanley Cup championship run, appearing in 35 regular-season games and two postseason contests.
Grubauer made his first start for the Avs on Oct. 11 at the Columbus Blue Jackets and picked up his first victory in an Avalanche sweater on Oct. 18 at the New Jersey Devils. In his third appearance with the club on Oct. 20, Grubauer built off his first win as he led the team to a 3-1 victory at the Carolina Hurricanes by stopping a then-career-high 42-of-43 shots.
"Without the way he played tonight, we wouldn't have won this hockey game," Landeskog said of Grubauer's performance at the time. "We got two big points on the road… He was outstanding. It was one of the better goalie performances I've seen in a long time."
During the season, Grubauer set career highs in wins (18), games played (37) and shutouts (three-tied). He also led the Avalanche in goals-against average (2.64), save percentage (.917) and shutouts.
Grubauer split games with fellow netminder Semyon Varlamov for most of the season, but then the month of March rolled around and "Grubi" began to find his form.
On the morning of St. Patrick's Day, the Avs found themselves in a tough position. The club sat at 72 points in the standings, six points out of the second wild-card spot and had to jump three teams, Arizona, Minnesota and Chicago to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the last three weeks of the campaign, Grubauer started nine of 11 games and helped the Avs post an 8-1-2 record and a postseason berth for a second straight year.
"It's pretty awesome," Grubauer said after the team clinched a playoff spot with a 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets on April 4. "The cards are freshly mixed again, and it's a new table for everybody here to play."
Video: Philipp Grubauer on clinching a playoff spot
In his final nine starts, Grubauer went 7-0-2 and posted a 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. His .953 save percentage led all NHL goaltenders while his seven wins were tied with the St. Louis Blues' Jordan Binnington for the most from March 17-April 6. In his final 14 appearances starting on Feb. 23, Grubauer posted a 9-2-2 record with three shutouts, a 1.44 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.
"Focus, determination, his will to succeed," Bednar said of Grubauer's play late in the regular season. "He put a lot of work in. His game was just OK for a stretch in the middle of the season, and he's a competitor. He wanted to be better, and he worked through it. You study film and you watch and you practice and you do the preparation to make yourself a better player."
Grubauer's .955 save percentage in March was the highest ever by an Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques goalie in the month and the second highest in any calendar month in franchise history (minimum seven games played), behind only Peter Budaj's .957 in December 2009. Grubauer also posted a new career high in saves on March 21, as he stopped 44 shots in a critical 3-1 victory at the Dallas Stars.
Video: COL@CGY, Gm5: Grubauer denies Gaudreau's penalty shot
When the postseason came around, Grubauer started all 12 games for Colorado, marking the first time since the 2015 American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs with the Hershey Bears that he had played the majority of his team's postseason contests. In the first round of the playoffs against the Calgary Flames, Grubauer registered a .939 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average to lead the Avalanche to four straight wins and a 4-1 series victory.
In the Western Conference second round, Grubauer posted a .914 save percentage and 2.60 goals-against average in seven outings versus the San Jose Sharks. In Game 4 on May 2, Grubauer recorded his first postseason shutout with 32 saves in a 3-0 victory that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
"Yeah, it's huge, but all we needed was the win," Grubauer said after the shutout at home. "As long as we could keep the zero up there, the better it is, the better the chance we have to win."
Grubauer ended the postseason with a 7-5 record, 2.30 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games.
His strong ending to the 2018-19 regular season, coupled with his solid postseason play, has put him in a position where he'll enter next year as the Avalanche's starting goalie.