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Islanders Hoping Backup Varlamov Keeps Them Alive: “He Deserves To Start”



AP Photo/Jim Rassol

The New York Islanders always knew they’d have to lean on their goaltending to make it into the playoffs but likely didn’t expect Semyon Varlamov to be the one minding the cage for them at the most critical time of the season. 

With 10 games remaining on the schedule, Islanders head coach Patrick Roy is putting the fate of the team in the hands of its backup goaltender, as Varlamov is scheduled to make his second straight start in goal for the Islanders tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their latest must-win game. 

“He looks really sharp,” Roy told reporters in Tampa on Friday afternoon. “I looked at him today in the practice, and he looks really sharp. So yeah, he will play tomorrow.” 

It’ll be just the second time this year that Varlamov will have started back-to-back games for the Islanders. 

The veteran netminder made 28 saves on Thursday night, helping the Islanders pick up a crucial two points over the Florida Panthers for his ninth win of the season. 

Varlamov has been limited to just 22 starts while serving as the understudy to Ilya Sorokin. But since Sorokin’s play has become unreliable as of late, the Islanders are turning to Varlamov to keep them afloat. 

“They both really work well together, Varlamov and Ilya,” Roy said. “I think, sometimes, it’s good to have a bit of a break. You get to find a way to get your confidence back in the practice. I thought Ilya had a really good practice today, so I’m confident that when he’s going to be back in net, he’ll play a good game. But, to your point, Varley played really well, and I think he deserves to start.”

It’s the reason why Islanders president/GM Lou Lamoriello decided to re-sign the 35-year-old Varlamov to a four-year contract over the offseason. As good as Sorokin was last year as the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, having a quality option behind him could very well prove to be the saving grace for the Islanders as they fight for their playoff lives. 

With the Islanders playing a back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, Sorokin will more likely than not start one of those games and get the opportunity to reclaim his spot as the team’s No. 1 goalie. 

But, at least for the time being, the role belongs to Varlamov as long as he continues to give the Islanders a chance to win.

“We’re in a position where we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Roy said. “We know what six wins in a row will do, but unfortunately, we have to go one game at a time and build on, hopefully, a very solid performance [each] night.”

Varlamov and the Islanders (31-26-15) face the Lightning (40-25-7) tonight at Amalie Arena. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. EST.




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