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First Round

Grubauer entering playoffs with Avalanche on high note

Goalie overcame slow start to prosper down stretch, confident against Flames

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Correspondent

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Philipp Grubauer is confident his regular-season success can continue for the Colorado Avalanche heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The goalie played the best hockey of his NHL career down the stretch, going 7-0-2 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in his final nine regular-season starts to help the Avalanche clinch the second wild card into the playoffs from the West. They will play the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT).

"It's been quite the ride here," Grubauer said. "Games we lost and games we won. It's pretty amazing that we actually made it. It could have gone the other way, too, but we have a good group here. It's been fun and now the real fun starts."

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

Although Grubauer won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last season, he didn't play after starting the first two games of the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He allowed four goals on 22 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 and was replaced by Braden Holtby after allowing four goals on 27 shots in the first two periods of an eventual 5-4 overtime loss in Game 2.

"Last year was tough," Grubauer said. "I don't think in Washington we played our best hockey in the first two games and it cost us."

The Avalanche acquired Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik in a trade with the Capitals for a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22, 2018. They bought out Orpik and signed Grubauer to a three-year contract the next day, but Grubauer struggled to start the season. He mostly backed up Semyon Varlamov and went 1-4-0 with an .855 save percentage in eight games (five starts) allowing 28 goals from Dec. 22 to Feb. 12.

His season turned around when he made 38 saves in a 5-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Feb. 23, eventually taking over the starter's role and going 9-2-2 with a 1.44 GAA, .956 save percentage and three shutouts in his final 14 regular-season games (13 starts).

The Avalanche, who went 3-13-5 from Dec. 21-Feb. 12, including losing streaks of six (0-4-2) and eight games (0-5-3), finished 15-6-3 to make the playoffs and were 8-1-2 since March 17, best in the NHL in that span.

"Things weren't working out early in the season," said Grubauer, who was 18-9-5 with a 2.64 GAA and .917 save percentage. "We didn't play really great as a team. Now everybody is working and making up for mistakes. It's not one thing that dramatically changed. It was a new team, so it took some time to adjust."

Video: WPG@COL: Grubauer sprawls and makes superb glove stop

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar credited Grubauer's work ethic.

"Focus, determination, his will to succeed," Bednar said. "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."

The Flames won all three regular-season games against the Avalanche, but Grubauer didn't play in any of them. He isn't concerned that Calgary topped the Western Conference with 107 points and Colorado was fifth in the Central Division (90 points).

"In the playoffs, it doesn't matter how many points you have in the regular season," Grubauer said. "We have to go in there and play our game. If we do that, we set ourselves up for a good chance."

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