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Bentivenga: Varlamov’s bounce back in goal helps Isles force Game 7

The New York Islanders officially live to fight another day, following a chaotic 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals. In an incredible comeback victory, the offense for New York was on full display… but we can’t forget about the man between the pipes. 

Going into a potentially decisive Game 6, Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov seemingly had one task to complete: to outduel Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Varlamov made a nice blocker save on Bolts captain Steven Stamkos early on, as it looked like he was settling in calmly. The Isles definitely did their part off the get-go on Wednesday night, as the majority of the first period didn’t see much in their own zone. Well, up until the final five minutes of the period anyway. With just under four minutes to play in the opening frame, the puck winds up stuck in a maze of players in front of Varlamov. They say the puck generally ends up finding players on a hot streak and it definitely found one in this case, as Brayden Point struck yet again to make it 1-0 for the roadside. 

The second period started out similar to the first for New York, getting several quality offensive chances and even a good amount of power-play time (including a five-on-three) to work with. Nothing to show for it, and following a shot that missed the net from Anthony Beauvillier, the Bolts came storming back the other way (no pun intended). Ondrej Palat found Anthony Cirelli on a long stretch pass, who slipped behind Nick Leddy and snuck it through Varlamov’s five-hole. 2-0 for the visitors. 

Read More – Repetto: Islanders Come Back Win Pushes Game Seven in Tampa Bay

Thankfully, the Isles had an answer, as goals from Jordan Eberle late in the second and Scott Mayfield midway through the third knotted the game up. From there, the goaltending battle would begin to peak as both teams looked to break the tie. Varlamov’s time to shine came with under five minutes to play in the third, as the Isles were on the penalty kill. The Lightning peppered Varly with shots, including a one-timer off the stick of Stamkos and a rebound attempt from Alex Killorn. The Bolts definitely had their chances, but number 40 stood tall and gave the Isles a boost of confidence heading into OT. Speaking of overtime… it didn’t last long. The “Killer B’s” line forced a Tampa turnover, and Beauvillier didn’t miss the net this time. A rocket up over Vasilevskiy’s glove on the first and only shot in the extra frame for either team. 

This game was as massive for Varlamov on a personal level as it was from a team perspective. Game 5 was as uncharacteristic as it got for the Isles, and fans knew their team, as well as their starting goaltender, would bounce back. After allowing three goals on 16 shots in Game 5 (and looking back on some of his better outings from this year’s playoffs), everyone knew Varlamov had more to offer than one outlying blowout game. That being said, his performance in Game 6 wasn’t show-stopping or anything like that… but it doesn’t always have to be to win in the playoffs. Sometimes it just has to be enough to provide a spark, and his goaltending combined with the Isles’ offense chipping in at the right time (and of course, the incredible crowd at the Coliseum) created the perfect mix for the blue and orange to see another day. Now it’s off to Game 7 on Friday night.

Follow Carter on Twitter @cbentivenga14

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