Semyon Varlamov is 40 seconds away from setting a New York Islanders record for the longest shutout streak in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they play the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).
Varlamov has not allowed a goal in 136:20 after New York’s 4-0 win in Game 1 in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Monday. He is closing in on the team record of 136:59, set by Billy Smith in 1980. Smith’s streak was spread across three games, including a shutout against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the NHL Preliminary Round.
He leads all goalies this postseason in wins (eight), goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.941; minimum four games) after making 29 saves in Game 1. Varlamov became the first Islanders goalie to have consecutive shutouts in the playoffs; he made 21 saves in New York’s series-clinching 4-0 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the first round.
Varlamov made four saves in the first period against the Flyers but was much busier in the second, making 15 saves, including a pad stop on a rebound attempt by Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux at 5:12 to protect a 1-0 lead.
But after the victory Monday, Varlamov said he’s more interested in team success than individual accolades.
“We know how important the first game [is] each series; it’s important to win the first one and have a good start, and we did that again today,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long series. It’s going to be a lot of games again. The series is not just about one game, it’s about winning four. We have to move on from this game and get ready for the next one.”
Teams that win Game 1 are 485-220 (68.7 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including a 7-1 record in the first round this season. Teams with a 2-0 lead are 328-51 (86.5 percent), including 4-0 in the first round.
Varlamov hasn’t faced more than 29 shots in any of the 10 games he’s played this postseason, but coach Barry Trotz said his goalie has been making key saves at the right time.
“Anytime you have your goaltending playing well, it gives your team confidence,” Trotz said Tuesday. “I think we’ve played pretty well in front of him, and he’s made some really good stops at key times, especially yesterday.
“I didn’t care for our game really last night. I thought the first period was real strong, and then after that I thought we were very average. We’ve got a lot of work to do and help him out. But he’s made big saves at key times. That’s the key in goaltending, I think. You look at some of the great goaltenders in the National Hockey League, it’s not necessarily the numbers or anything like that, it’s do you make the save at the key time that allows you to win.”
Varlamov has been everything the Islanders could have hoped for this postseason after they signed him to a four-year, $20 million contract July 1, 2019. He replaced Robin Lehner, who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the goalie voted as the best in the League, last season. Lehner became an unrestricted free agent and signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks; he ended up with the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 24 as part of a three-team trade that included the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Varlamov has stepped up his game in these playoffs too. He was 13-13 with a 2.57 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 26 NHL postseason games before the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. This is the first time he’s played in the playoffs since 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche, who lost a seven-game series against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
“He’s been huge right from Day One since he came to us,” center Brock Nelson said. “Not that we expect it, but obviously he goes out there and performs every night and is a backbone for us, so it’s nice knowing that we have him behind us. If there’s a breakdown or an error, he can bail us out.
“We’ve had good goaltending now for a while, [but] lately he’s been on it making big saves, timely saves. That can win you games at this time of year.”