Semyon Varlamov is a great goaltender, and he’s a big reason why the New York Islanders are into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And he was terrific for the most part on Thursday night.
But it’s also fair to question his focus and clutch performances after he allowed another early goal in Boston’s 2-1 overtime victory in Game 3 of the second round.
Varlamov has allowed a goal on one of the first three shots he’s faced in each of his four starts this postseason. Last night he allowed a goal by Craig Smith at 5:52 of the first period to put the Islanders down early 1-0.
On Monday in Game 2 in Boston, Varlamov allowed a goal by Charlie Coyle at 2:38 of the first period in a game the Islanders eventually won 4-3 in overtime.
And on May 18, in Game 2 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Varlamov allowed a goal by Bryan Rust at 3:22 of the first period in a 2-1 Penguins victory.
Is he taking too much time to get into the game? Is this a concentration lapse? Both reasons seem plausible. Smith’s goal was a good goal, no question. Big shot from the high slot, and not many goaltenders are going to make that save.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 4, 2021
And although Varlamov got better the more work he got in, the overtime winner by Brad Marchand should not have gone in. Marchand fired it from a sharp angle outside the faceoff circle, and the puck found the back of the net over Varlamov’s left shoulder.
It appeared that Varlamov had over-committed on the play, leaving a tiny crack for Marchand.
What a crazy goal by Marchand. Varlamov is going to lose sleep over that one
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) June 4, 2021
“I’ve got to watch the replay,” Varlamov said. “We just finished the game. I didn’t even see the replay. So I’ve got to kind of go back in the locker room and I don’t really have an answer for you right now. It was kind of a weird shot, but the puck found the net. So, it was a good play, I guess, by Marchand.”
“You know what? Obviously not a great one. But any puck, especially in OT, has a chance to go in.”
— Brad Marchand, when asked if he thought his OT shot had a good chance of beating Varlamov.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 4, 2021
Outshot By Wide Margin
The overtime loss might have turned the tide against the Islanders, who were outshot 21-9 in the third period despite having a power play at the end of regulation time.
“I thought when we scored the goal and even at the end of (regulation) on the power play, I thought our power play had some really good looks,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re going to forget this game. We’ll move forward and just focus on Saturday. That’s all you can do.”
There is no question about Varlamov’s overall ability. He was the reason the Islanders got to overtime because of Boston’s territorial edge and glorious scoring chances. Varlamov was the third star of the game after Boston netminder Tuukka Rask and Marchand.
And although Varlamov owns a .923 save percentage in the postseason, he is 1-3 in his four starts with a 2.82 goals-against average, and you wonder when Ilya Sorokin will return to the net.
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Barzal Started Going To Net
This will be a tough loss to swallow, especially at home, where the Islanders have been so dominant all season. They were outshot 41-29 and they still had the game on their stick many times in the late stages of the game.
The Islanders had battled back with a goal from Mathew Barzal in the third period, and were seemingly relying on the overtime gods to bless them again. The Islanders had been 3-0 in overtime games this postseason. But losing at home and in overtime puts Boston in a great position.
Teams that win Game 3 are 366-156 (65.5%) winning a best-of-seven NHL playoff series after it is tied 1-1, including 4-2 last season. Game 4 is on Saturday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The most dangerous Islander player in Game 3 was Anthony Beauvillier, who could have had three goals on the night. His quick bursts of speed put him in good positions to score. But like Barzal, he’s got to shoot more.
Sitting just outside the goal crease at one point, Beauvillier elected to try a low-percentage pass across the goal mouth, and of course, nothing happened. That’s a shooter’s area. Beauvillier has to shoot there.
Another look at Barzal's equalizer 👀 pic.twitter.com/R0q6f34aAX
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 4, 2021
And speaking of shooting, Barzal was spending too much time on the fringes and passing off instead of cutting to the net before his goal. That goal was so unlike Barzal, taking three whacks at the puck at the side of the net.
We are used to seeing end-to-end rushes from him, but the rink shrinks in the playoffs and there is no room. Barzal finally started going to the net, and it’s a pattern he must repeat in Game 4.
There is a lot riding on Barzal’s shoulders. He’s the Islanders best player and he is paid like that at $7 million a season. But he has only one goal in the postseason. Marchand, on the other hand, has five goals and two overtime winners for the Bruins this postseason.
Struggles of No. 1 Line
Eberle has scored two goals this postseason, but none since May 24 against Pittsburgh. And everyone knows Komarov is not there to score, but to create room for Barzal and Eberle.
Komarov had zero shots on goal in Game 3, had a minus-1 rating, but had four hits. In nine games, Komarov has five shots on goal and one in his last five games. Is this who you want on your No. 1 line?
If Barzal and Eberle don’t start to score in the next couple of games, the Islanders season may well be lost. A similar weight was put on Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the playoff series with Montreal. Their scoring touch dried up in the postseason, and the Leafs fell in seven games to the Canadiens.
Could a similar fate be awaiting the Islanders? And what about the goaltending? Having two premier goaltenders in Varlamov and Sorokin seemingly gave the Islanders an edge.
They could turn to each one at any time. It was Boston who looked suspect in goal because Rask has been battling a nagging injury. Yet you would never know it by Rask’s play in Game 3.
🎥 Trotz Postgame Availability 🎥 pic.twitter.com/rrf8PNtkjN
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 4, 2021
There are more questions facing the Islanders than the Bruins going into Game 3 on Saturday, and that’s not a good thing if you’re an Islanders fan. The Islanders clearly have to play their best game of the postseason on Saturday.
The Bruins have been just a little bit better in every department. They show a little more urgency, they show a little more intensity, they show a little more offense, they show a little more aggressiveness. If the Islanders improve even 10% in those areas, their chances in this series go up exponentially.
Of course, the Islanders have been here before. They fell behind 2-1 in the series against Pittsburgh and then won the final three games.
“These are two teams that are fairly evenly matched,” Trotz said. “We’re playing nose to nose, blue-collar hockey and it’s not going to be easy. The hard way is going to be the only way. There’s no panic.”
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