It has become the norm this season that a big play or save by Semyon Varlamov has changed the course of a hockey game for the New York Islanders. That again was the case on Monday night in the Islanders 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
It was a late first-period save on Victor Olofsson that swung the momentum in the Islanders’ favor and kept a scoreless game, just that. Semyon Varlamov finished the night with 20 saves and recorded his seventh win of the season.
The game-changing save came with 4:56 left in the opening frame. Jeff Skinner entered the Islanders zone and sent the puck to Jack Eichel in the slot with Olofsson down low by the side of the net.
Eichel noticed that and moved the puck over to Olofsson for the one-timer from point-blank range, but Semyon Varlamov managed to get just enough of his glove on the shot to redirect it off the post and it remained out of the net. Leo Komarov was right there to pick up the loose puck and take it out of harm’s way.
— Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) February 16, 2021
“It was huge,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said of the save. “Varly wasn’t tested too much, but when he was tested he made big-time, timely saves for us. Not chasing that game was really important for us. There’s no question about it.”
Just over a minute later the Islanders were able to find the back of the net thanks to a goal from captain Anders Lee at the 16:37 mark. The quick momentum shift showed how the Islanders used the big stop by Varlamov to re-energize their game after a slow start.
And it’s apparent this season just how crucial it is for the Islanders to score the game’s first goal. They are 6-1-1 when they find the back of the net compared to their 1-3-2 record when they give up the first goal.
“Varly has been huge for us ever since he came here,” Brock Nelson said. “He made some big saves game in and game out. Again tonight early on. A couple of back doors. You want to try and limit those looks, but it’s nice knowing that you have a guy back there that’s going to save them if they get a couple chances, which they will.”