The game, and a chance for the Capitals to get back in the series, was on the stick of Jakub Vrana as he broke away into the Islanders’ zone in overtime on Sunday.
Vrana had blocked a shot by defenseman Andy Greene and he was off, in on a clean breakaway against Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
But Varlamov stopped Vrana’s shot and then turned away his rebound attempt. And just under 30 seconds later, at 4:28 of overtime, Mathew Barzal scored to give the Islanders a 2-1 victory and a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
“You see it all the time where you get that timely save on Vrana — [Varlamov] made two saves on Vrana — we come back and score,’’ Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s hockey sometimes, you know?’’
Varlamov said he tried to be patient as Vrana sped toward him.
“Every player plays a breakaway differently,’’ Varlamov said. “Some players say they prefer to shoot. Some players say they prefer to make a move. As a goalie, you just have to try and stay patient and then see what the player is going to do.’’
Trotz has been asked several times about the choice he had to make between using Varlamov or Thomas Greiss as his No. 1 goalie for the postseason.
Each time, the coach said he trusted both goaltenders and that he couldn’t make a mistake whichever one he chose.
He chose Varlamov, and the 32-year-old Russian, who signed a four-year, $20 million free-agent deal with the Islanders last summer, has played every minute of the postseason so far.
Varlamov has helped lead the Isles to a 6-1 record and has a 1.77 goals-against average and a save percentage of .932.
In the three games against Washington, he has allowed five goals (1.62 GAA) while stopping 69 of 74 shots and outplaying Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who had his best game on Sunday with 32 saves.
As a team, the Capitals played their best game of the series on Sunday. But the Islanders and Varlamov were able to withstand it.
The Isles had their strongest first period of the series and took a 1-0 lead on Anders Lee’s goal at 14:50.
Washington tied it on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power- play goal at 5:50 of the second period and had a chance to take the lead when Tom Wilson got a shorthanded breakaway. But Varlamov aggressively came out of his net to cut off Wilson’s shooting angle and the Capitals forward shot wide.
For the game, Washington managed only 23 shots on goal, which may have made it tough for Varlamov to get in a rhythm.
He didn’t mind.
“Sometimes it’s very, very difficult to stay focused because you don’t face that many shots,’’ he said. “Sometimes you have to wait like 10 minutes to make a save.
“But it’s OK. We played very good defensively. I prefer to see that from the guys instead of giving up like 20 shots in the first period.’’