It may have been the first time this year that Semyon Varlamov showed an emotion. It certainly was a first during this postseason.
Jordan Eberle’s goal, at 12:30 of the second overtime, had just given the Islanders an exhausting, 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in Edmonton, and kept the season alive. And Varlamov, the unflappable Islanders goalie whose 36 saves had kept them in it for so long, skated toward his teammates, who were mobbing Eberle at the far end of the ice.
And then he dived, headfirst onto the ice, and slid into the celebration.
"I just jumped, because I was so excited for us,’’ Varlamov said in his Zoom interview afterward, unable to stop himself from cracking a big, toothy grin. "Our season was on the, on the line today in this game. And then, when we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through (me). In that moment, I was just so happy for the guys and so happy for us — you know, we have a chance to now continue to play.’’
They have a chance to continue to play because, after coach Barry Trotz changed up his forward lines, and dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards, the Islanders played the most Islanders-like game of the series, blocking 32 shots in the game, hitting everything in a blue jersey and generally giving the skilled Lightning very little. And when the Lightning did get free and get a chance, Varlamov, who has been a rock for the Isles throughout the postseason, was there to stymie them.
He was beaten once, by Victor Hedman at 4:00 of the second period, and he thought he was beaten a second time, by Carter Verhaege, at 9:54 of the third. Verhaege’s goal would have given Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead, but the Islanders challenged the play for offside, and the challenge was successful.
"I had no idea that was offside,’’ Varlamov admitted. "I'm glad we caught it and then I'm glad our coaching staff did a great job on that one. I was just upset I gave up the goal because it was 2-1 after that.’’
But it wasn’t, and the game ultimately went to overtime, where Varlamov and the Islanders had to survive a double-minor high sticking penalty to Anthony Beauvillier with 1:23 left in regulation. Varlamov and the penalty killing unit killed it off, however, allowing just two shots on goal in the four minutes. Two other shots were blocked.
"That was a huge kill for us of course,’’ Varlamov said. "Today, when we're going overtime, you give up one goal, and your season's over. So you go on the PK, you try to do whatever you can to make the save or, stop the shot. So the guys did an unbelievable job battling through in those moments.’’
Which explains just why Varlamov lost his mind in the postgame celebration.
And his teammates loved it.
"Obviously he was fired up,’’ defenseman Ryan Pulock said, with a smile, of Varlamov’s dive. "It's an emotional game and he was pretty excited there. It's good to see.’’