WASHINGTON -- For the third time in the Washington Capitals' past six trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they needed a second goaltender during Game 2 of their first-round series
Philipp Grubauer was preparing for the final weekend of the regular season in the American Hockey League on Thursday, but his plans changed because Washington goaltender Braden Holtby was sick. Grubauer made his NHL playoff debut Friday, stopping 18 shots to help the Capitals rally for a 4-3 win and tie their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series with the New York Islanders at 1-1.
"Amazing. [It was] amazing," Grubauer said. "All I can say is a [great] game, [great] comeback. Guys did an amazing job of keeping the pucks to the outside."
Holtby led NHL goaltenders in games played this season, but he was not on the ice Thursday and Grubauer was officially recalled Friday morning. Coach Barry Trotz said after the morning skate the plan was for Holtby to participate in warm-ups, but that never materialized.
Minutes before the Capitals were set to take the ice at Verizon Center down 1-0, they announced Grubauer would make his postseason debut in place of Holtby.
"I wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not," Grubauer said. "I just prepare the way if I have to play. If they say you're going to go in, even if it’s five minutes before the game, you have to change and go down there it’s five minutes before the game, just got to prepare and make sure I’m ready to go."
Grubauer is officially a rookie in NHL terms, but he’s hardly a new face in Washington. A fourth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (No. 110), Grubauer played two games for the Capitals in 2012-13 and 17 last season.
Given Holtby’s workload this season, Grubauer appeared in one regular-season game. He has had played well in limited NHL action, including a .925 save percentage in 2013-14. He also had a strong season for the Hershey Bears in the AHL and has been thought of by some pundits as the de facto No. 2 goalie on the organizational depth chart.
Justin Peters has occupied the active roster spot behind Holtby for much of the season, but hasn’t played particularly well (.881 save percentage, 3.25 goals against average in 12 appearances). Grubauer’s place in the pecking order was confirmed Friday.
"I just liked his demeanor," Trotz said. "It’s a great trait of a goalie … you’re not overwhelmed by the moment or the situation."
The Capitals traveled to Long Island after the game instead of waiting until Saturday afternoon, in part because Game 3 is Sunday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum (noon ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). Trotz said Holtby was traveling with the team.
"I don’t know [if Holtby will play Game 3] but I’m more optimistic than I was this morning," Trotz said.
Washington's veteran players are used to turning to a young goalie at a time of need. Semyon Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore as the starter in 2009 and 2010. Theodore started Game 1 and was pulled during Game 2 in 2009, and former coach Bruce Boudreau went to Varlamov at the beginning of Game 2 the following year.
Even Holtby’s NHL postseason debut was a bit of a surprise. Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth spent the majority of the 2011-12 season manning the net, but each went down with an injury near the end of the season and Holtby ended up starting each of Washington’s 14 playoff games that year.
"I mean, it put a lot of pressure on me," Grubauer said. "We wanted to win this game. The team needs that. I mean if we would have lost that game it would have been 2-0 for those guys and it’s tough to come back. It was a [great] game today."