The Colorado Avalanche know a thing or two about punching their ticket to the playoffs on the last day of the NHL regular season. It happened last year when they took down the St. Louis Blues in the winner-takes-it-all Game #82 of the campaign. This season it seems like the late drama will be repeated. If the Avalanche made the post-season, it will be in large part they would have to thank their in-form goaltender, the red-hot Philipp Grubauer. Nevertheless, the Avs appear to be pretty much banged up with two injured star players.
Red-Hot Philipp Grubauer Leads The Way in Colorado
Just a week before, the Avalanche have found themselves in a very unpleasant spot. They lost a tough game against the second worst team of the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have been playing on back-to-back nights and they stole one in Denver with a 5-3 victory. That was also the last time Colorado head coach Jared Bednar went to with veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
In the next game versus the New Jersey Devils at Pepsi Center, Bednar gave the chance to Grubauer. The German netminder made 22 saves in a 3-0 shutout win, but that was just an appetizer for the Avalanche. They played the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars on the road with huge playoff implications in both contests. Unbelievably, Grubauer made 80 saves on 82 shots on goal as the Avs won both of those games, 3-1.
Grubauer was clutch in those key wins. However, it´s not only about the Stars or the Wild in the Western Conference playoff race. There are other teams like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Arizona Coyotes. During this weekend, the Avalanche play back-to-back, home-and-home series versus the Blackhawks. On Saturday in Denver, Grubauer made 29 saves on 31 shots against him in yet another huge win.
Grubauer Responding After Slow Start For The Avalanche
The start of the season hasn’t been that easy for Grubauer. In his first 26 games played, Grubauer has recorded one win in just 11 meetings. Many times, he has been pulled and that was the reason why Bednar turned to ride hotter Varlamov in the Avalanche goal crease. In the final seven games in the month of February, Varlamov has lost just one game in regulation time in which he posted a solid 30 saves on 32 shots on goal.
But ever since then, he has never been able to stop over 90-percent of shots faced as he won just one of his four starts. That was the time when the big-time off-season acquisition came in handy for the Avs. Grubauer has played solidly on a back-up position for the Washington Capitals, but he wanted a salary raise, just as he deserved. The 27-year-old goaltender signed a three-year deal worth $3,333,333 per season in Colorado last summer.
That’s a big gamble for an inconsistent netminder as he seemed in the majority of this season. Grubauer, however, took his chance and wanted to make a proving point with the Avalanche. His strong play lifted Colorado all the way to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The playoff race is very tight, as the Wild and Coyotes swirl around with just one point less. But the seventh place Stars are just two points above.
Colorado Avalanche are Banged Up in Key Time Of The Season
Just a few weeks ago, the Avalanche lost their captain Gabriel Landeskog due to an upper-body injury. Just little over two weeks ago, the Avalanche expected Landeskog to miss the remainder of the regular season. The Swedish left-winger is currently skating and is nearing a return to the lineup. When he will really make his way back, that still remains unknown.
Another star player, Mikko Rantanen, didn’t finish the game against the Stars in Dallas on Thursday. The skilled Finnish right-winger has 87 points in 74 games and had to miss his first game of the season on Saturday. He will also miss the game on Sunday at United Center versus the Blackhawks. The long-term loss of Rantanen would definitely harm the Avalanche a lot.
Avalanche Want To Make Playoffs Yet Again
After a disastrous 2016-17 season, the Avalanche aim to make the playoffs for second straight season. With a red-hot Philipp Grubauer in the net and even without injured stars like Landeskog or Rantanen, they seem to be in the driver´s seat. If they can call themselves as a banged up team, the very same applies to the Wild or the Coyotes. Both Minnesota and Arizona are chasing Colorado.
After the game on Sunday in Chicago, which is practically an elimination game for the Blackhawks, the Avalanche will have six more games left to play in the regular season. Four of those games will be at Pepsi Center, where Philipp Grubauer has given up just four goals in his last four starts while recording two shutouts.
Two road games still await for the Avalanche, one of these games will be held in Arizona next week. Every game is enormously big for any team chasing those two wild-cards spots in the Western Conference. The difference between the top wild-card berth and the sixth place in the West is currently six points. The Avalanche sneaked in on the last minute last season. Maybe in a little bit less dramatic fashion, but they seek to repeat it during the present campaign as well.
DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 12: Philipp Grubauer #31 of the Colorado Avalanche tends goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period at the Pepsi Center on February 12, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)