The Islanders lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, but they got what they needed — and that is a split of the first two games on the road.
The battle between the pipes is shaping up to be crucial in this series. Tristan Jarry made 37 saves in a bounce-back effort for him after he allowed four goals on 41 shots in New York’s 4-3 overtime win on Sunday.
But Semyon Varlamov was special for the Islanders. He was clearly the best player on the ice for New York, making 43 saves after missing Game 1 for an undisclosed reason. Ilya Sorokin made 39 saves on 42 shots in Game 1, so the Islanders are blessed to have two great goaltenders over the playoff grind.
Varlamov gave up a weak goal to Bryan Rust just 3:22 into the game. He appeared to be fooled on the shot to his glove hand. But he settled down and was outstanding the rest of the way.
The Russian netminder kept the game tight in the third period, as the Penguins were looking to bury the Islanders and he’ll likely start most of the games in this series
Although Jarry was the first star of the game, Varlamov had the biggest workload. He finished with a .956 save percentage, which is going to win you most games. Jarry had a .974 save percentage.
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“I thought (Varlamov) was excellent after the first goal,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought there were moments where they could’ve made it a 3-1 game and he came up with some key saves. I thought he was moving well. He was crisp. All of that.”
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Game 3 will be Thursday at Nassau Coliseum at 7 p.m.
The Islanders didn’t get the start they wanted. Pittsburgh went up 2-0 on a Jeff Carter goal, and the Islanders had to play a game they don’t want to play, and that’s catch-up.
It didn’t help the Islander cause that Sidney Crosby made a huge stick save in the goal mouth that saved a goal off the stick of Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
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“There’s no magic pill that I can give everybody, ‘take this pill and have a good start,'” Trotz said. “It comes from within. It’s on the room to do that. They know. We talked about that, getting off to a good start. Best way you can is simplify your game, get after it, get determined, win your battles. Usually, it works out that way.”
Bailey Ready To Bust Out?
Josh Bailey scored on a wonderful backhand goal, fired with accuracy and velocity, to make this a game in the second period. You don’t often see backhand shots like that. Perhaps he was taking a page from the Crosby book because the Penguins captain has perhaps the best backhand in the business.
If Bailey starts getting hot, watch out.
Two years ago, if you remember, Bailey was the overtime hero, powering the Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum and giving the Isles a 1-0 series lead in their first-round series. This past season, Bailey had a goal and five assists in eight games against the Penguins.
In 2019, the Islanders went on to sweep the Penguins, only to lose four straight to the Carolina Hurricanes in the next round. Bailey was among the Islanders’ leading scorers that season with four goals and two assists in eight games.
Last year, the Islanders made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out to the ultimate champion Tampa Bay Lightning. And Bailey was the club’s leading scorer in the playoffs with two goals and 18 assists.
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Varlamov Looks Playoff-Ready
In the loss on Tuesday, Varlamov showed that if the Islanders can get the lead, he’s the kind of performer who can shut the door. The playoffs are all about goaltending, and you can look out West for evidence of that. The Vegas Golden Knights are getting knock-out goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and he’s the reason that Vegas won against Minnesota on Tuesday to earn a 1-1 tie in the series.
The Islanders need more than Varlamov, of course. Their power play will have to be sharper if they are going to win this series. The Islanders had one power-play opportunity at the end of the third period and were 0-for-2 with the man advantage on Sunday.
The biggest disappointments among the Islanders forwards were Kyle Palmieri and Brock Nelson. They were the only Islander forwards not to register a single shot on goal. Of course, Palmieri deserves some slack because of his two goals in the playoff opener on Sunday.
The Islanders are lucky to go home with a split. The Penguins are without Evgeni Malkin, who missed his second straight game. The center practiced Monday, but did not take line rushes or participate in power-play drills.