TORONTO — Mat Barzal stole the show with his game-winning goal 4:28 into the overtime period. Equally as monumental for the New York Islanders, just 28 seconds earlier at the other end, Semyon Varlamov robbed Jakub Vrana twice on a breakaway chance to preserve the game.
Thus allowing the Islanders to take a 3-games-to-none stranglehold in the series.
“Your goalie is your eraser,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz after the win. “As a coach or a team, your goaltender can erase all your mistakes and we made a couple of mistakes there, and Varly erased it. Getting it for him, it’s a good process, where you want to reward your goalie for bailing you out. You can bail him out with a win when you get that opportunity.”
Recently, we haven’t talked that much about Semyon Varlamov. Until the big overtime moment, he hasn’t had to be spectacular in the series. Obviously he plays the most important position on the ice, but Islanders talk usually revolves around Barry Trotz’s systems, the grinding style of the team, and items like puck pressure and rolling lines.
But, for a team to go anywhere in the postseason they have to have confidence in their man wearing the mask. To earn that confidence, that goalie has to be better than good, even when chances don’t pile up.
“When you start a game you want to make a couple of good saves, instead of having to wait,” Varlamov said. “But we’ve been playing very good defensively and you always want to see that from the guys. That’s way better than seeing twenty shots in a first period, so they’ve been doing a good job.”
big stop from Varly pic.twitter.com/d5j4vbUS5g
— x-Isles on MSG Plus (@IslesMSGN) August 16, 2020
So far against Washington, the 2006 first-round draft pick of the Capitals, has definitely haunted his former team. He was a 23rd overall pick, but with a clogged crease with the likes of Jose Theodore, Michal Neuvirth and later Braden Holtby, then Capitals General Manager George McPhee moved Varlamov to Colorado.
Eight years later to the day, “Varly” signed a free-agent contract with the Islanders.
So far, this is the body of work against him by his former club in the First Round:
Game 1, 5:27 of the 2nd period, TJ Oshie cashed in off a lucky bounce on a cross-ice power play pass from Evgeny Kuznetzov that caromed off Adam Pelech’s skate, off the end boards, right to Oshie in the left wing circle. No chance.
Game 1, 11:18 of the 2nd period, Oshie again, this time on a goal-mouth scramble on the power play, jammed one between Varlamov’s legs. Could he have covered it? We’re splitting hairs.
Game 2, 56 seconds into the 1st period, Alex Ovechkin skated suddenly in alone from the bottom of the right wing circle and backhanded one short-side. This after Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield had booted the puck and turned it over trying to control it out of the corner. Can’t fault the goalie.
Game 2, 6:39 of the 2nd period, Ovechkin again, six feet in front of Varly, deflects a Brenden Dillon rocket from the mid-point glove side. No chance.
Game 3, 5:50 of the 2nd period, Evgeny Kuznetzov goes top shelf glove side from the top of the right wing circle on the power play with Tom Wilson providing the screen directly in front of Varlamov. Perfect shot, no chance.
That’s it, that’s all the damage the Capitals have mustered.
No softies, nothing even close. The 32-year-old has the body language indicating that he is comfortably confident and he’s proven it when the few big moments have arisen.
Semyon Varlamov has outplayed Braden Holtby at the other end, who was particularly shaky in Game 1, and if Varly keeps it up, the Islanders will be moving on to the Second Round much sooner than later.
(Editors Note: Rob Simpson will be providing coverage from inside the Toronto bubble throughout the playoffs for NYI Hockey Now and the Hockey Now network of sites.)