Give Barry Trotz credit for this: He does not care what you or I or anyone else thinks about his lineup. It’s a right he has earned, given his resume.
On Monday night, the Islanders’ coach again demonstrated that he knows what he is doing, making a pair of counterintuitive decisions that paid off.
Before Game 2 of the second-round playoff series against the Bruins, he surprised many by replacing Ilya Sorokin with Semyon Varlamov in goal and choosing not to replace Leo Komarov on the struggling first line.
Net result: a 4-3 victory on Casey Cizikas’ breakaway goal at 14:48 of overtime and a 1-1 series heading to Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 on Thursday.
Sorokin was 4-0 in the first round against the Penguins and Varlamov was 0-2. Then the rookie seemed to play mostly well in Game 1 against the Bruins despite a 5-2 loss.
No matter. Trotz said the change "was a pretty easy decision."
"We have two really good goaltenders," he said. "But it was [his] record. He was 5-1 [against the Bruins] . . . He’s a veteran. He’s not scared of these moments, and he’s been a rock for us all year.
"I hope he gets a ton of votes for the Vezina [Trophy], at least be a finalist, because he’s been one of our MVPs this year."
All true. But after Sorokin beat the Penguins in Game 1 and Trotz switched to Varlamov, he had a couple of shaky outings in consecutive losses. Sorokin returned and won three in a row.
Trotz said he hoped to ride the Sorokin momentum into this series but that the plan was to go back to Varlamov if the Islanders lost Game 1.
Varlamov’s mindset was the least of the coach’s concerns.
"He’s not a guy that complains about who’s in net," Trotz said. "He just says, ‘When I’m in net, I’m going to give you my best game,’ and he’s an all-in team guy."
The Varlamov decision did not look wise early on. For the third time in his three playoff starts, he gave up an early goal, this time 2:38 in on the Bruins’ first shot on goal.
Boston’s Charlie Coyle maneuvered around Nick Leddy and charged across the front of the net, then tucked the puck between Varlamov’s left pad and the goalpost.
Might Sorokin have made the stop, given that he is best known for his quick side-to-side movements and ability to make saves with his legs?
After that, though, Varlamov was sharp most of the night until Boston scored twice in the last 10 minutes of the third period to tie it at 3.
But in overtime, the veteran goalie was excellent, especially on a save coming across the goalmouth on Taylor Hall shortly before Cizikas’ game-winner.
"It’s huge," Jean-Gabriel Pageau said of the stop on Hall. "He was great for us the whole game. He’s been great for us the whole season. To come in and do that, that big save, I think it gives us that little boost that sometimes you need.
"To see your goalie has your back, it’s massive."
Said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, "They were one save better than us."
As for the Barzal line, Trotz hinted after Game 1 that he would make a personnel change there after an unproductive playoff season for Barzal and his wings, Jordan Eberle and Komarov.
Barzal has not scored a playoff goal yet, and there was widespread speculation that Trotz might exchange Komarov for someone more explosive offensively, perhaps Kyle Palmieri.
Even though the Barzal line did not score Monday, they validated Trotz’s decision not to make a change, creating numerous good scoring chances.
Barzal and Eberle each had four shots on goal and Komarov drew a key penalty by annoying Brandon Carlo into a crosscheck that led to a power-play goal.
"He was good," Trotz said of Barzal. "He was dangerous. That line was really good tonight. He was dancing. He was going to the hard areas. He was fighting for his inches. They had a hard time containing him. That’s what we need."