After a strong regular season, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov found himself on the bench while rookie Ilya Sorokin was shining in the first round of the playoffs.
When Sorokin lost the series opener against Boston in the second round, New York coach Barry Trotz turned back to Varlamov and the veteran has been stellar since. He has helped his team move within one win of the Stanley Cup semifinals. The Islanders host the Bruins in Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“There’s probably not a guy that’s more low maintenance,” Trotz said. “That understands himself, and the game, the process of being a goalie in the NHL. … Goaltending is one of the those positions where, if you don’t have that trigger where you can just sort of understand it, why maybe you didn’t have the night that you did or a goal goes in that you don’t expect, how to shake those off. … Park what happened in the past and move forward and understand that there was very little you can do sometimes.”
Varlamov was 19-11-4 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .929 save-percentage in the regular season. His seven shutouts were tied with Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer for the league lead. He gave up seven goals on 72 shots while the Islanders lost Games 2 and 3 against Pittsburgh in the opening round. Sorokin came in and helped the Islanders win three straight to advance.
Against the Bruins, Varlamov has allowed 10 goals on 156 shots in four games for a 2.32 GAA and .936 save percentage. He has faced more than 40 shots three times in the series, keeping the Islanders close until the offense came through.
“Varly is one of those guys that (when he) has a bad game, you want to throw him in there right away because you know he’s going to come back with a really good game,” Trotz said.
Varlamov’s counterpart Tuukka Rask is coming off his toughest game of the postseason. He was pulled after giving up four goals on 16 shots through two periods in favor of rookie Jerry Swayman. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Rask’s status for Game 6 was uncertain.
Though the Islanders are on the cusp of advancing to the semifinals for the second straight year, they aren’t taking anything for granted.
“Any team that has experience knows how hard it is to get that fourth game and you’ve got to bring it,” Trotz said. “We’ll be desperate tomorrow, they will be desperate. … I think guys understand that they’ve got to leave the best game out there. And if we leave our best game out there hopefully we get the result tomorrow, and if we do, then we advance. If we don’t, go to Game 7 and we’ll have to have our best game there in Boston.”
The Bruins, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the bubble last year, have the same mindset.
“We’ll be ready to go, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be ready to go,” Cassidy said. “We were I thought the better team (in Game 5). It didn’t show on the scoreboard.”
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy echoed that sentiment.
“We’re going to New York to win a game, and that’s all that’s on our mind,” he said. “We want to put our best foot forward and win a hockey game — that’s it. That’s all we’re thinking about right now. This thing isn’t over.”
The Islanders have been opportunistic with the man advantage in the playoffs, converting on 29% of their chances, including 3 for 4 in Game 5. During the season, New York was 20th in the league at 18.8%.
“I feel like our power play has been pretty consistent through these playoffs,” said Mathew Barzalm, who had the tying goal on the power play late in the first period. “It’s helped us in a lot of games whether to take the lead or get us back in the game, so I’m just trying to take what’s there. Boston’s got a great PK, and Pittsburgh. So, just a matter of bearing down on your chances and then shoot when you get it.”
The Bruins scored in 21.9% of their chances during the season, and have upped that to 33.3% during the playoffs. They are 5 for 11 during this series, including 2 for 7 over the last three games.
Cassidy said the Bruins will not have defensemen Curtis Lazar and Brandon Carlo in Game 6. Lazar was injured in the second period of Game 5 in a collision with the Islanders’ Adam Pelech, and Carlo has been out since a hit from Cal Clutterbuck in Game 3. Defenseman Kevan Miller, injured in the first round against Washington, isn’t ready to return. __
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