A shaky goalie can sap a playoff team’s confidence in a hurry, or it can galvanize the rest of the squad to cover up their deficiencies and get the job done another way.
The latter was the case on Friday, as the Washington Capitals overcame a weak performance from last-minute starter Philipp Grubauer to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 and tie their series 1-1.
Grubauer was named the starter late Friday after the Caps ruled out Braden Holtby, who missed yesterday’s practice with an illness.
But the German did not get off to a good start, surrendering a soft goal to Cal Clutterbuck on just the Islanders’ second shot of the game.
Clutterbuck came in down the wing and snapped the puck on net, easily beating Grubauer to the glove side. It was a soft goal Grubauer should have had, and it put his team behind just five minutes into the game.
Ryan Strome’s goal was more forgivable. Yes, it beat Grubauer between the glove and pad, but it came during a period of sustained Islanders pressure off a beautiful pass from John Tavares behind the net, with several players in front.
The third Islanders goal was a heavy blow. Kyle Okposo came in on the wing and let the Caps’ defenceman slide past him before wiring the puck high glove on Grubauer’s short side. The goal came after a period of sustained pressure by the Caps, and easily could have broken their spirit at 3-1.
But the Capitals were resilient, striking back to erase each Islander lead before Jason Chimera scored the game-winner in the third period.
Captain Alex Ovechkin played a big part in that recovery, potting a rebound goal in the second period just two minutes after Okposo’s tally. Ovechkin’s goal made it 3-2 Islanders and kept his squad in the game.
Then Washington’s other top player, Nicklas Backstrom, did his part to tie it. Backstrom carried the puck up the middle of the Islanders’ zone, hanging onto it through traffic and faking a pass before firing it past Jaroslav Halak to tie the game.
The game was a missed opportunity for the Islanders, who could have put a stake through the Capitals’ hearts before the series shifts to New York. Instead they managed just 21 shots on net to Washington’s 35, and failed to capitalize on an obviously shaky playoff rookie in Grubauer.
Holtby’s health will be a huge factor in Game 3. The Islanders may have blown their opportunity in Game 2, but it doesn’t take a video coach to identify Grubauer’s deficiencies. The Islanders already have him figured out, and they should be able to prey on him if they face him again.
As for the Caps, they bent but didn’t break.
That’s a good sign for a team with the potential to go far this post-season.