When the Capitals take the ice at Capital One Arena Thursday for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, they'll have Philipp Grubauer, between the pipes.
Since Nov. 1, the Rosenheim, Germany native has been one of the league's best netminders, leading all goalies in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.937). In 28 appearances this season, Grubauer recorded a career-best 15 wins and has been consistently reliable for Washington.
Being named the Capitals' starting netminder for Game 1 is just the latest development in a career year for Grubauer, who this season has undeniably proven that he is capable to backstop the team in important games. Recently, with a Metropolitan Division title on the line, Grubauer stopped 36 of 37 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 1 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, including a timely glove save on Sidney Crosby late in the third period, securing a 3-1 win and the Capitals' third-straight Metropolitan Division title.
Video: WSH@PIT: Grubauer flashes the leather on Crosby
"It's a privilege to start, for sure," Grubauer said. "But it's just like any other game. We treat it as Game 1 or Game 82. It's not going to change any of my approach."
"It helps playing more and more. The more you get on the ice, the more experience you get there. You see different situations, different teams. You get good from watching, but you have to experience the situation, get the ice time, for sure. And it helped a lot too to get a couple games in a row too."
Video: Philipp Grubauer | April 10
With the Capitals having the luxury of possessing two top-notch goalies in Grubauer and former Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby, Caps head coach Barry Trotz was forced to make a difficult decision on a Game 1 starter. He ultimately chose Grubauer, who will be making his second career postseason start.
"I just think that Grubi deserves the opportunity," Trotz said. "I think his body of work, especially this year, presented itself. Trust me, it wasn't an easy decision."
In the team's first-round series against the New York Islanders in 2015, Grubauer found himself in the net for a crucial Game 2 when Holtby fell ill between games. With Washington dropping Game 1 on home ice, the then 23-year-old rookie was counted upon to even the series, and did just that, making 18 saves in a 4-3 Capitals win.
Video: Caps 365 | April 10
This time around, Grubauer has earned the right to start in the playoffs after a long stretch of stellar and consistent play during the regular season.
Heading into the playoffs, the Capitals are finding themselves in a great position with both goaltender playing well. In the season's final month, Grubauer and Holtby alternated starts and combined for 11 victories in the team's last 14 regular season games, which tied Winnipeg for the most wins since March 12.
Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2016 and was a finalist again last year, has won a league-best 165 games since 2014-2015. Statistically he's been better in the playoffs, posting a .932 save percentage in 59 career postseason games, the second-best mark in NHL history. Knowing Holtby's impressive resume, Trotz's decision to start Grubauer is a testament to how great he has been for the Capitals throughout the season, and especially of late.
"We're very fortunate that we have two really good goaltenders right now," Trotz said. "I think that puts us in a real good spot."
Video: Barry Trotz | April 10
Although Grubauer's play has only been recently recognized by the rest of the league, his ascent into a big-game goalie began two years ago.
Prior to the 2016-2017 season, Grubauer started all three Olympic qualifying games for the Germans, posting a staggering 0.67 goals-against average and .970 save percentage and singlehandedly leading Germany past the qualification round. Germany, who didn't qualify for the previous 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, went on to win a Silver medal.
Now, Grubauer is ready to take an even bigger stage as the number one goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs.