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Capitals name Philipp Grubauer Game 1 playoff starter

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Philipp Grubauer will start Washington’s playoff opener against Columbus, the first Capitals goaltender not named Braden Holtby to start a postseason series since 2011.

The 26-year-old German started 10 of the final 16 games of the regular season, going 7-3-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Grubauer’s 2.06 GAA and .933 save percentage are the best among NHL goalies since Oct. 27.

”I just think that Grubi deserves the opportunity,” coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday, a day after telling Grubauer of his decision. ”It sort of evolved all year. There wasn’t a date or anything like that. It just evolved and Grubi got more games and a bigger body of work.”

Grubauer called it a privilege to start after spending the past three full seasons as the backup to Holtby, who won the 2016 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. It could be a short-lived privilege if he struggles because Trotz said his decision is only for Game 1 on Thursday night and the Capitals are going ”game by game.”

The opener will be Grubauer’s second career start in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Grubauer started a game against the New York Islanders in the first round in 2015 when Holtby was sick and entered in relief once in 2017.

”It doesn’t change how we go about our business,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. ”We’re just concerned about our game.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Grubauer led Windsor to the Ontario Hockey League title and won the Memorial Cup in 2010. He also helped Germany qualify for the 2018 Olympics. But it’s this recent stretch that gives him the most confidence going into the playoffs.

”It helps playing more and more,” Grubauer said. ”The more you get on the ice, the more experience you get. You see different situations and different teams. If you sit on the bench, you can get good from watching, but you’ve got to get the experience.”

He will likely see a lot of Columbus captain Nick Foligno, who is back after missing the final six games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. Foligno gives the Blue Jackets some net-crashing presence and will be in and around the crease often.

”I honestly feel great,” Foligno said after centering Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson in practice on what is now the deep Blue Jackets’ third line. ”I’ve played this game long enough to know how you have to prepare during an injury to make sure you’re feeling good mentally and physically when you get back.”

Holtby has never sat on the bench for a Stanley Cup playoff game. Michal Neuvirth started all nine games for Washington in 2011 before injuries to him and Tomas Vokoun pressed Holtby into duty in 2012.

The 28-year-old has started 59 of the past 60 Capitals playoff games. But his struggles down the stretch – a 3.75 GAA and .886 save percentage in his final 17 appearances – cost him the ability to go into another postseason as the guy even after showing improvements following his four-game ”reset.”

Trotz said Holtby was a pro and told him: ”If you put me in the net, my job is to stop the puck. If I get that opportunity, I’ll stop the puck.” He was similarly gracious after practice about the demotion.

”My job is just to focus on my game, getting it the best it can get to,” said Holtby, who closed the season 5-1-0 with a 2.67 GAA and .911 save percentage . ”Coach’s decision who plays or not doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’ll just focus one practice at a time, trying to be a positive influence around the team and go from there.”

Holtby said in March it was good to ”clear the team’s head with that kind of stigma that’s kind of going on with me in net.” With Holtby and Grubauer splitting time down the stretch, the Capitals won 12 of their 15 final games.

”I think we have two good goalies who can play,” defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. ”Grubi was good for us all season. It’s not easy to be second goalie and not play some games. You need to always be prepared in practice. I think he did a good job like a professional player, and I think he’s got confidence right now.”

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

Associated Press

Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:

Scores:

Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Caps expect Peters to be ready for training camp after knee surgery

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The Washington Capitals announced that goalie Justin Peters underwent left knee surgery on Monday and should be ready to compete in training camp.

Getting ready by then could be key for the 28-year-old, as you get the impression that he’s the odd man out of the Caps’ goalie rotation. Japers’ Rink postulated back in late June that Philipp Grubauer will back up Braden Holtby instead of Peters in 2015-16:

When the Caps re-signed Philipp Grubauer to a two-year, one-way deal, it was a pretty clear indication that they see him as ready to take on the role of Braden Holtby’s understudy (assuming, of course, that a Holtby deal gets done). For starters, while the Caps still have Justin Peters under contract, it’s clear that they’ve lost faith in him (if they ever had any in the first place) and see Grubauer as a better option to back-up Holtby. But another factor here is that Grubauer would need to clear waivers to be sent to Hershey and he wouldn’t clear, so the Caps’ choice would essentially be keep Grubauer in the NHL or lose him. Not much of a choice, is it?

Indeed, Peters didn’t play well at all during his first season with the Capitals, going 3-6-1 with a putrid .881 save percentage in 12 games. His overall career numbers aren’t anything that will leave GMs all that excited, either, although he showed moderate promise in 2013-14: 7-9-4 but with a .919 save percentage in 21 appearances.

Really, he hasn’t even distinguished himself at the AHL level, for that matter.

Long story short, Peters needs to prove himself with his current contract expiring, even if he may be auditioning as much for other teams as he is for Washington.

Ex-NHLer Sturm named coach, GM of German national team

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Marco Sturm, the highest-scoring German player in NHL history, has agreed to become the head coach and general manager of Germany’s national team.

“I’m very proud that the DEB [German hockey federation] gives me the huge responsibility and I’m really immensely looking forward to this challenging and exciting task I will work on with huge motivation,” Sturm said, per the IIHF website. “Together we want to go the next step with German ice hockey.”

Sturm, 36, retired last January after a 15-year NHL career that went through San Jose, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, Vancouver and Florida. He also represented Germany at nearly every international level, participating in three Winter Olympics.

As mentioned in his quote above, this new gig will be a challenge. Sturm, who doesn’t have any pro coaching experience, inherits a struggling national team; Germany finished a disappointing 10th at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, suffering one of the biggest blowouts of the tournament, a 10-0 loss to Canada.

This came on the heels of an equally disappointing effort at the ’14 tourney, in which the Germans needed group stage wins over Latvia and Kazakhstan to avoid relegation.

Currently, there are seven German skaters in the NHL: Tobias Rieder, Dennis Seidenberg, Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc, Leon Draisaitl, Korbinian Holzer and David Wolf. Thomas Greiss and Philipp Grubauer are the country’s lone netminders.