Bavarians were dancing in the streets and drinking Hefe-Weisse brau in Rosenheim, Germany, Saturday.
Their favorite hockey son — Grubi — had extinguished the Flames on Friday night.
Perhaps Philipp Grubauer will don his lederhosen in Colorado this week.
The career backup goalie — or “Torhuter’’ — won four consecutive games in his first full-time NHL playoff series and was a major player in propelling the Avalanche into the next Western Conference round against the Golden Knights or the Sharks.
“The Great Grubauer’’ is the only NHL player who was born and learned to play hockey in the small historic Bavaria city southeast of Munich. From his German hometown Phillipp can see the Alps. From his Colorado home he can stare the Rockies. He’s reaching his own peak.
Grubauer didn’t shut out the No. 1 seed in the West, but he sure shut them down after the opening game, the only loss by the wild-card team.
It was Avs’ first postseason series victory since 2008.
Joe Sakic, Avalanche Hall of Famer, executive VP of hockey operations and architect of this revitalized franchise — was beaming in the Saddledome on Friday night. Uwe Krupp, the Avalanche’s first German postseason hero (with the winning overtime goal in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship), also must be grinning over Grubauer’s performance.
Grubauer won a Stanley Cup ring a year ago, but mostly as a bystander at the end of the Capitals’ bench. He did begin Washington’s first series in goal, but lost Game 1. He was lifted in the second game and never played again. (He did spend a day with the Cup in Rosenheim.)
During the offseason the Avs traded for Grubauer to be their No. 2 goalie to eight-season, oft-injured underachiever Seymon Varlamov, who started 49 games this season, but prevailed in only 20.
Varlamov’s last meaningful start was March 15. The Avs fell 5-3 and were in 10th place with 72 points in the Western Conference. Their playoff chances were diminishing.
Grubauer took over for good, and great, on March 17. The Avs didn’t lose in regulation with the Goal Standard starting the rest of the regular season. He won seven of nine, with the Avs dropping one in overtime and another in a shootout. On 4/4 they clinched the eighth spot with a triumph over Winnipeg and 90 points.
Grubi rested for the final, insignificant affair while Varlamov was bested again.
There was no doubt who would play on. Yet, in the first game in Calgary, Grubauer and the Avalanche faltered and faded.
No more, though.
With a marvelous defense in front of him, and the offense wearing on Flames’ goalie Mike Smith, Grubauer permitted only seven goals in the rest of the series. He stopped 125 of 132 shots (.947) in the final four, and the Avalanche’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog outscored the entire Flames roster.
The most critical juncture, and the most critical play, occurred in Game 4 at The Can. The Avs trailed 1-0 after two periods and 2-0 in the third period before responding to tie on a Rantanen power-play goal with 2:50 left.
In overtime Calgary’s Mikael Backlund skated across the front of the goal and got the puck on the right side a few feet from the post. Grubauer had no assistance and was sprawled, with his left pad level with the ice. Backlund delayed milliseconds to raise the puck for a shot over the pad.
Yet, Grubauer was just able to lift the bottom of his pad, and the puck ricocheted away.
It was the save of the series.
Instead of falling to 2-2 in the first round, and the first time ever in the playoffs against the Flames, the Avalanche were alive. And, at 10:23 Rantanen unleashed a striking, knee-sliding one-timer to beat Smith and the Flames and give the Avalanche what would be an insurmountable 3-1 advantage
In the old-time hockey parlance of Dave “Tiger’’ Williams (1977), Them Flames were done like dinner.
The Avalanche, and Grubauer, thoroughly decimated the Flames in the finale, 5-1.
Memories of the way the Avs were from ’95-’02.
Always, during Lord Stanley Chase to the Chalice, triumphant teams require a scorching goalie.
Philipp Grubauer has become The Determinator.