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Philipp Grubauer will start Washington’s playoff opener against Columbus Art Shell Jersey , 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.”
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 Demarcus Robinson Jersey ,” 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.”
NOTES: Capitals C Jay Beagle, who missed the final three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury Will Lutz Jersey , did not practice Tuesday but skated afterward. Trotz is calling Beagle day-to-day. … Capitals RW T.J. Oshie said he feels great after resting a nagging lower-body injury and expects to be in the lineup for Game 1.
AP Sports Writer Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio, contributed.
The Houston Rockets have a chance to take their first lead in the Western Conference finals with a victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
To do that they’ll need their superstars to step up again, with the pressure on James Harden and Chris Paul to deliver after their big performances in Game 3 spurred Houston to the road victory that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
”We’re back to even,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”We know what we have to do and see if we can do it against a great team.”
After two blowout losses in this series, including an embarrassing 41-point rout in Game 3, the Rockets know they don’t have any time to celebrate Tuesday’s win. It was a victory that snapped Golden State’s NBA-record 16-game home playoff winning streak.
”We have to get down to normal sea level real quick, because we’ve got a lot of work left,” D’Antoni said. ”We know it’s not going to be easy, but also they know now it’s not going to be easy. We’re looking forward to it … with the right type of fear and the right type of excitement.”
It’s a huge opportunity for Harden and Paul, who’ve both had their fair share of playoff disappointments in the past Sheldon Rankins Jersey , but combined to score 57 points Tuesday’s 95-92 win that put the top-seeded Rockets back in the driver’s seat in this series.
The 33-year-old Paul is a conference finals rookie after failing to get out of the second round in his previous nine playoff trips. Though he’s never reached this level in the postseason before, his 13 years of NBA experience have proven invaluable as the Rockets try to knock off the defending champions and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 1994-95.
Though the Rockets are heading to Houston for Thursday’s game, they know that playing at home doesn’t give them an excuse to let up.
”Both teams have the ability to win on the road,” Paul said. ”We had to prove that to ourselves. Weathering the storm, the runs that they made, and knowing that now we get a chance to go back home, we knew we had to get at least one win here. We got it, so now it’s a three-game series.”
Though the pressure to perform is heightened for Harden and Paul, Rockets players and D’Antoni agree that they can’t get it done without plenty of help from Houston’s supporting cast. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela combined for 29 rebounds on Tuesday night, and in Houston’s Game 2 victory the Rockets had five players score 16 or more points.
”It’s a close series so without any of them you don’t get there,” D’Antoni said. ”So everybody has their role and some play a bigger role – bigger meaning they shoot the ball more so we as a society give them a bigger role – but everybody is just as important.”
While the Rockets are thrilled to see the momentum of the series swing their way for perhaps the first time in the series Morten Andersen Jersey , the Warriors are upset that they let what they feel like was a winnable Game 4 get away. Draymond Green is OK with his team having its back against the wall and believes the Warriors play well when faced with adversity.
”I know what we’re capable of and I know the level of focus and intensity that this team brings when that is the case,” he said. ”We blew a golden opportunity but it’s not one that we can’t get back. We can get it back. So there’s no panic.”
Stephen Curry said he spent much of Wednesday going over each possession of Golden State’s 12-point fourth quarter in his mind and thinking of ways he and the team could have done things better to close the game out after leading by double digits early in the period.
”It’s a frustrating feeling obviously … but we’re great at turning the page and being resilient and finding a way to bounce back,” he said.
This series has already had so many ups and downs that it could give a young person gray hair. For the already silver-locked D’Antoni, who at 67 would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, the exhilaration of this journey has been well worth any stress it has caused.
”It makes me feel alive, I know that much,” he said. ”It feels good. You coach all year for this or even your whole career to get here or get as close as you can. It’s great competition, against one of the best teams ever.”
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