It doesn’t feel that long ago that Semyon Varlamov had gotten shelled against the Penguins in his Game 3 start in the first round. In fact, it’s been just 23 days since that rough outing led to Varlamov, who didn’t seem 100%, being relieved of his starting duties in favor of rookie Ilya Sorokin.
Sorokin would go on to win the next three games and help the Islanders win the series in six. Head coach Barry Trotz stuck with his freshman netminder to begin the second round against Boston. After losing game one, Trotz went back to his veteran.
Something changed at that moment as well — Varlamov gained his confidence back.
Now, just hours after the Isles’ Game 1 win of their Stanley Cup Semifinals matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that confidence in Varlamov’s game looks to be an all-time high. He was the show stealer on Sunday afternoon. Some might disagree with that statement, but he was there at every important moment when the Islanders needed him to be.
“To me, goaltending is all about the timely saves,” Trotz said about his goaltender’s performance. “We’ve got two that have done that for us. [Varlamov and Sorokin] have done that not just in the playoffs, they’ve done that all year for us. You’re going to need some big saves.”
Varlamov was on his A-game right from the start. He had to be. The Lightning held a 7-1 shot advantage within the first ten minutes of the game as the Isles weathered the early storm. That quick barrage unfazed Varlamov. As the game wore on, he looked locked in. It showed the rest of the afternoon, with him stymieing a vaunted Lightning attack, which had been averaging the third-most goals per game in the playoffs coming into the series.
Oh and about those big saves Trotz mentioned, there was quite a few.
Varlamov with a good stop on Killorn #Isles pic.twitter.com/QrrWhrcDDw
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 13, 2021
We try to limit the chances that we get against him,” said Jordan Eberle, but when there is a chance, he’s been there all year for us. It’s not a surprise.”
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Varlamov’s latest showing was another in a string of excellent performances. 30 saves on 31 shots was his stat line; it would have been 31 for 31 if not for Brayden Point’s power play goal with 53 seconds left in regulation. Sunday was also Varlamov’s fourth in a row and fifth in his last six starts. Not to be forgotten too was Varlamov’s outdueling the opposition at the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 1. Vasilevskiy is, after all, the reigning Vezina winner and was nominated again this year.
There’s no question Varlamov should have been a finalist for the award with Vasilevskiy for his stellar regular season, yet he wasn’t selected. After Sunday, that snubbing has to look even worse. That’s how just how lights out Varlamov played.
Semyon Varlamov pic.twitter.com/d7uFaRLKhC
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 13, 2021
With Game 2 set for Tuesday night, Varlamov has the chance to help the Islanders grab a 2-0 series lead heading back home. Not many could have foreseen that scenario just three weeks ago. Varlamov’s on a roll right now and looks to be his best, as does the rest of the team in front of him. Both are huge signs of the Islanders’ game clicking at the perfect time.
Things were clicking too in Game 1, which belonged rightfully to Varlamov for his outstanding play. He was one of the main reasons the Isles won. And he stole the show several times in doing so.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @RTaub_