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New York Islanders

Varlamov Stops 41 As Isles Shutout Preds In Trotz’s Return To UBS

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AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie

ELMONT, NY–  For the first time in two years, Barry Trotz returned to UBS Arena on Saturday night, now as the general manager of the Nashville Predators. So, it was only fitting that upon their former head coach’s return, the New York Islanders paid homage to Trotz with a performance that harkened back to his days behind their bench.

With a stout penalty kill and some timely scoring, the Islanders defeated the Predators 2-0 as Semyon Varlamov made a season-high 41 saves in goal to collect his third shutout of the season and 41st of his career.

“Some pucks I saw, some pucks I didn’t,” said a modest Varlamov. “A couple of times, I thought I got lucky. Luck was definitely on my side today, which is good. I’ll take that any day.” 

Call it what you will. Either way, there was no denying that Varlamov was the one who came up the biggest in the latest installment of the Islanders’ biggest game of the year.

“He was outstanding,” said Islanders head coach Patrick Roy. “He looks so confident out there. I mean, he made it look like it was an easy game. I was happy to see him play that way. We needed this…He won the game for us tonight.”

Varlamov’s signature moment of the game came when the Islanders were faced with two consecutive shorthanded situations while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period.

After successfully killing off a Brock Nelson minor penalty for high sticking, New York was again forced to play down a man after Simon Holmstrom was called for a slash when he broke the stick of former Islanders forward turned Predator Anthony Beauvillier.

In a strange instance, the Islanders’ twigs became as brittle as toothpicks. First, Jean-Gabriel Pageua’s stick snapped on the kill’s initial faceoff. Then Casey Cizikas had his splinter when he blocked a shot. But even while essentially playing five-on-three, the Islanders stayed calm during the two-minute panic in their third successful penalty kill of the night.

“It hasn’t been easy for us this year [on the penalty kill],” Cizikas said. “To be in that spot tonight and to get those kills, there’s a lot of momentum to build on that.”

Throughout the final 20 minutes of play, the chants of Varlamov’s name grew louder and louder from a crowd that was already more engaged than any the Islanders have drawn this season.

Even after a scoreless opening frame, the volume was at a playoff level and burst when Noah Dobson found the back of the net at 9:03 of the second period.

As the Islanders applied pressure in the offensive zone, Dobson took a few strides inside the blue line before throwing a wrist shot that found the top corner of the net past Nashville goalie Kevin Lankinen. With assists from Mike Reilly and Mathew Barzal, the goal was the tenth of the season for Dobson and his second in as many games.

Although he was overshadowed by Varalmov, Lankinen was nearly as impressive in goal for the Predators, stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced. Lankinen watched from the bench as Kyle Palmieri hit an empty net with 1:19 left to play in the third period.

Now having won four straight games, the Islanders hold third place in the Metropolitan Divison with 85 points but are by no means comfortable. They’ll likely have a photo finish as the Eastern Conference playoff race approaches the finish line.

“This is the best time of the year,” said Cizikas. “This is the most fun part of the year where you’re battling for those positions in the playoffs. And in those spots, this is where our team thrives.”

The Islanders have five games remaining on their schedule. Two of those come against the New York Rangers, the first of which comes Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at UBS Arena.

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