Someday, maybe 40 years from now, Philipp Grubauer will tell his grandchildren about how he shut out the Broad Street Bullies in his first NHL game.
And he wouldn’t be entirely stretching the truth.
Called up from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday when Michal Neuvirth fell ill, Grubauer thought his first NHL game would consist of opening an closing the door on the Capitals’ bench.
But after the Flyers took a 4-0 lead on an unscreened slapshot by Max Talbot with 5:05 remaining in the second period, Capitals coach Adam Oates replaced Braden Holtby with Grubauer, giving him his first taste of NHL action.
“It was a dream come true,” said Grubauer, a 21-year-old native of Rosenheim, Germany who was taken by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. “I dreamed about this since I started playing hockey.
“It was amazing. I tried to step up and give those guys confidence and show the organization that I can do something as well.”
Grubauer was greeted by a flurry of chances by the Flyers, stopping Sean Couturier in the slot and a pair of chances by Simon Gagne at the side of the net. He ended the night with a perfect 14 saves on 14 shots.
“He did a great job,” Oates said. “It was a tough situation.”
Right wing Joel Ward, who scored the Caps’ only goal in the 4-1 loss, agreed.
“We’ve seen him before,” Ward said. “He had a big exhibition game with us in Columbus; he’s a good goalie. It was good for him to get in the game and gain some confidence.”
Because of the NHL lockout, Grubauer began the season with the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League and tore up the league with a 19-5-1 record and 2.30 GAA, getting named the starter for the ECHL All-Star Game.
When the lockout ended and Holtby returned to the Capitals, Grubauer kept that momentum going with the Hershey Bears, sporting a 6-4-1 record and a 2.10 GAA. Grubauer said that aside from the nerves, his first NHL experience was a good one.
“Of course I was nervous the first time, but once the puck drops it's like every other game,” he said. “It's like every other game in the AHL. I couldn't really prepare for it. You’re a little nervous before. Anybody who's not is kind of lying. As soon as the puck drops, it's all about business. It doesn't matter if I get thrown in or I start.”
Oates acknowledged after the game that his plan was to give Michal Neuvirth the start against the Flyers, allowing Holtby to catch his breath after seven straight starts. Holtby said he should have stopped Talbot’s shot but refused to use fatigue as an excuse.
“I’m feeling fine,” he said. “It’s my job to be in shape and not to get tired so that’s not the issue.”