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Kraken need Grubauer at top of his game in 1st playoff run


AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) — Two years ago, Phillip Grubauer headed into the postseason as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders, on a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy and was considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

His return to the postseason comes under far different circumstances.

While Seattle coach Dave Hakstol was reticent to give details, the expectation is Grubauer will be in net for the Kraken for Game 1 against Colorado on Tuesday night. It’s a series where Seattle is heavy underdogs, facing the defending Stanley Cup champions and with Grubauer taking on his former team.

Grubauer said he felt back in training camp the Kraken had a roster capable of making the playoffs in Year 2 even if most were discounting Seattle’s chances.

“There was a feeling in that room that this group can do something special. You have to play 82 games in order to get here and we did that and we did it in a great way compared to last year,” Grubauer said. “Now the work starts.”

Grubauer was the first big free agent signing in the history of the Kraken. He gave them a goaltender with plenty of playoff experience, and one who had held the Stanley Cup, doing it with Washington in 2018.

For the most part, Grubauer has yet to live up to the six-year, $35.4 million deal he signed before Seattle’s inaugural season. The first year was a mess of poor performances. The defense was shaky around him and too many pucks got behind Grubauer and into Seattle’s net.

Grubauer has clearly played better this season with more talent and better stability in the lineup around him. There were stretches of the season where his play flashed similarities to two years ago when he was a Veniza Trophy finalist with the Avalanche.

For the season, Grubauer was 17-14-4 with a 2.85 goals against and an .895 save percentage, numbers that don’t scream elite goaltending. But this playoff series, against his former team, is the setting for Grubauer to match the expectations that came with his big contract.

Grubauer had a 1.70 goals against average and a .928 save percentage in three games against Colorado this season.

“How many guys are still there from two years ago when I first like left the team? Probably not too many. So it probably helped that I played like most of the games against Colorado this year,” he said. “I think that’s It’s a little bit more helpful than practice like three years ago.”

Grubauer’s expected return to the playoffs will begin in the same building where he last started a postseason game.

That 2021 playoff run for Grubauer started well. He had a .936 save percentage and allowed seven total goals in as Colorado swept St. Louis in the first round. But after taking a 2-0 lead on Vegas in the second round, Colorado lost four straight to the Golden Knights and saw a season where it had the most points in the league come to a disappointing conclusion.

Seattle has plenty of postseason experience between Grubauer and Martin Jones. The duo combined have played in 95 career playoff games.

But the overall performance of Grubauer and Jones – and the metrics to go with it — leaves goaltending as one of the biggest concerns for Seattle going into a series. If the goaltending is great, perhaps Seattle can steal a game or two and give the defending champs some worry. If it’s not up to par, the series could be done very quickly.

“There’s a real focus and spotlight on certain areas coming into the playoffs,” Hakstol said. “Certainly goaltending is one of them. We are very comfortable with our two guys.”


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