Caps, Jackets roll into playoffs on hot streaks
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets are rolling into Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series with goaltenders who are question marks for different reasons.
For Columbus (45-30-7, first Eastern Conference wild card), Sergei Bobrovsky has been one of the league's top goaltenders but has not carried that success into the postseason.
Washington's Philipp Grubauer, who got the nod from coach Barry Trotz for Game 1 over Braden Holtby, has just 79 minutes of playoff experience on his resume.
"I just think (Grubauer) deserves the opportunity," Trotz told thesportscapital.com of going with Grubauer in Game 1. "Trust me, it wasn't an easy decision."
Grubauer, who stepped in when Holtby was given a "reset" after slumping in February and March, finished with a .923 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average. Trotz rotated the pair down the stretch, but Grubauer started 10 of the final 17 games.
"It's a privilege to start, for sure," Grubauer told the Washington Post. "You treat it as Game 1 (of the regular season) or Game 82. It's not going to change any of my approach."
Trotz said he will go game-by-game in his goaltending decisions.
"It's a coach's decision who plays or not," Holtby told the Post. "It doesn't have anything to do with me. So, I just focus on one practice at a time and try to be a positive influence on the team and go from there."
Grubauer is 0-1-1 in three games with a 2.48 GAA and .915 save percentage against the Blue Jackets. Holtby is 14-4-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .914 save percentage.
Bobrovsky was 37-22-6 in the regular season with 2.42 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
In the playoffs, he is 3-10 with a 3.63 GAA and .887 save percentage.
This is the first playoff meeting between the teams, but in his career versus Washington, Bobrovsky is 7-10-4 with a 3.02 GAA and .900 save percentage.
"We have full confidence in his abilities," Columbus captain Nick Foligno to the team's website regarding Bobrovsky. "If I had to pick anybody in the league to go to the playoffs with, it would be him. And I think he's pretty confident about the team in front of him as well."
Washington took three of four from Columbus this season, but the Blue Jackets won the last meeting 5-1 on Feb. 26. Holtby was in goal for all four games.
The Capitals didn't win their third straight Presidents' Trophy but they beat expectations. Despite losing a chunk of its offense, Washington again won the Metropolitan Division and closed the season 8-2-0.
Alex Ovechkin rebounded from last season's 33-goal effort to lead the NHL with 49. Evgeny Kuznetsov totaled 11 goals and 17 assists in the final 18 games, and defenseman John Carlson led all blue-liners with 68 points.
Columbus led the NHL in scoring over its final 28 games with 101 goals and finished on a 10-2-2 streak.
Artemi Panarin led the Blue Jackets with 27 goals and 82 points. Cam Atkinson has 24 goals, including 11 in the final 11 games.
Top defensive pair Seth Jones and Zach Werenski each scored 16 goals, tying the franchise record for most goals by a defenseman in one season.
Washington has the edge in special teams, with the league's seventh-ranked power play (22.5 percent success rate) and 15th-rated penalty kill (80.3 percent).
Columbus is 25th on the power pay (17.2 percent) and 26th on the penalty kill (76.2 percent).
"It's been inconsistent this year," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told the team's website regarding the penalty kill. "I'm not going to hide from that. You get into playoffs, just try to wipe the slate clean and get about your business here. We can focus in on their tendencies. That's a big part of the series.
"Hopefully, we're smart enough that we keep control of ourselves, our emotions, we're a disciplined team and not sitting in that box a whole bunch in this series."
Updated April 11, 2018