As it turned out, the unplanned, two-day break between Game 2 and 3 of the Islanders’ second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers had a positive effect on Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who had been pulled from Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I think so,’’ Varlamov said after he and the Islanders rallied from a first-period deficit Saturday in Toronto to beat the Flyers, 3-1, and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“In the playoffs, you play a lot of games — every other day — and then you don’t have a chance to practice,’’ Varlamov said. “Sometimes, you kind of, like, get away from your game. And then we had a good practice [Friday] and a pregame skate this morning. So I had two practices before this game tonight. I felt good. You know, it’s important to feel good and then feel sharp again. During the practice, [you] make some saves, work on some stuff . . . So, I think, yeah, those two days definitely helped.’’
Before the players on the eight NHL teams still playing in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles decided to halt play for two days in solidarity with the protests around the sports world following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Islanders had been scheduled to play back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday. And Varlamov, who had started the Islanders’ first 11 postseason games, was replaced by Thomas Greiss after he allowed three goals on 10 shots in the first period of Wednesday’s game. Coach Barry Trotz had a decision to make: Come back with Varlamov (9-2, 1.69 goals-against average) in Game 3 or give Greiss (0-1, 1.26) his first start of the postseason.
But with Varlamov getting a welcome break, Trotz gave Varlamov his 12th straight start and was rewarded with a 26-save performance, including a third period in which the Russian, 32, stopped 12 shots, including a brilliant left pad save on Joel Farabee with 9:58 left and the Isles up by two, and four huge stops on a Flyers power play when Philadelphia pulled goalie Carter Hart (26 saves) to create a six-on-four advantage.
“The year has been so long, but if you go back to the first 68 games of the regular season, [Varlamov] was very good after a loss,’’ Trotz said. “And he bounced back. I think the maturity of Varly as a pro shows in volumes and it shows especially after losses. That’s the key for being in this league and having successes that you can park everything that happened yesterday and then and reset.’’
Trotz will have another decision to make on Sunday, as the Isles once again face back-to-back games.The noted that with the back-to-backs, it was possible he might use Greiss in both goaltenders, Meaning there is a chance Greiss could get the start in Game 4.Given the way Varlamov played Saturday, though, that seems unlikely.
After the game, Trotz was asked if he was pleased with Varlamov’s performance in Game 3, and if there was a chance he could bring the goalie back for Game 4.
“Yes, and yes,’’ Trotz said.