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.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.