Less than 90 seconds in, Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning very much had a feeling of déjà vu.
With Phillipp Grubauer getting the start against the best team in the league, the Caps took a penalty just 44 seconds into the game. Grubauer failed to freeze the puck on two different opportunities allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in play and score the early goal to go up 1-0.
“I thought early, they score a minute basically into the game and you're like, OK here we go,” Barry Trotz said.
“I was laughing, here I go again,” Grubauer said.
Wins have been hard to come by for Grubauer this season. Coming into Fridays’ game, he had none. An early goal against a team as good as the Lightning could have been a backbreaker.
But not this time.
Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 in the first period and that’s when Grubauer took over.
“When it was 1-1, I thought Gruby made some real key saves for us,” Trotz said.
He added, “They were getting people to the net and they were dangerous all around. He made some real huge saves for us and we got him more than a goal.”
For the first time since Grubauer’s first start this season back on Oct. 9, the Caps gave Grubauer a lead to protect in the second period courtesy of Devante Smith-Pelly. That not only gave Grubauer confidence, it also allowed his teammates to focus more on playing well in front of him rather than taking chances in the offensive zone in search of a goal.
Bottling up a team as explosive and talented as the Lightning is not easy, but Grubauer was up to the task.
Friday’s 3-1 win was Grubauer’s first of the season. His record now sits at 1-5-1, a record his teammates know is not reflective of how well he has played for them.
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“I know the guys are thrilled to get a win for Gruby because they know he shows up as a pro every game,” Trotz said.
That was evident after the game as Grubauer's teammates were effusive in their praise for the German netminder.
“Not an easy position to be a backup goalie and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him,” Matt Niskanen said.
It was hard to figure out afterward just who this game meant more to, whether it was Grubauer whose family is in town for his birthday Saturday and who was in attendance Friday, or his teammates.
“My parents were here so I'm really, really proud to give them a good game and get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.
Said Niskanen, “Everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger today for him. He played really well. He earned it.”