Barry Trotz had a decision to make, as far as who his starting goaltender would be when the Islanders tried to close out the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of their second-round series Tuesday. But the Islanders coach at least had the comfort of knowing that both his goaltenders, Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, were in excellent form.
Ultimately, Trotz went with Varlamov, and the 32-year-old Russian was solid, but not enough to prevent the desperate Flyers from extending the series with a 4-3 win in overtime at Scotiabank Centre in Toronto. Varlamov made 28 saves before being beaten by a tip-in goal by the Flyers’ Scott Laughton at 12:20 of the extra period.
Game 6 will be Thursday, and Trotz will once again have a decision to make: Will he stay with Varlamov, who has been a stalwart throughout the postseason, or will he change it up and go with Greiss, who’s looked good in his two appearances over the last week.
“To me, it's gut feeling,’’ Trotz had said in his pregame media briefing Tuesday, when asked what criteria makes the decision for him on which goalie to play. “It's getting a feel for the goaltender. Sometimes, the other thing I look at is a little bit of (the) opponent, for certain people, and a little bit of history. So those three components go in [to the decision], and if a guy's in a rhythm. I think both of our guys have a really good rhythm. So, be honest with you, I don't think I can make a poor choice, based on the way both have provided us goaltending through the playoffs.’’
Varlamov, who started the Islanders’ first 12 games in the bubble, before Greiss started Game 4 on Sunday, was up to the challenge as the Flyers outshot the Islanders 11-5 in the first period. A power-play goal by Josh Bailey at 1:20 of the second period gave the Isles the lead, but the Flyers dug in and fought back hard. Eventually, they tied the game when Claude Giroux tipped in a point shot by Philippe Myers at 15:45 of the second, and then James van Riemsdyk stunned the Islanders when he scored on a two-on-one rush to put the Flyers ahead, 2-1, at 18:18.
They nearly made it 3-1 17 seconds later on a bad angle shot from the right corner by former Ranger Kevin Hayes, but Varlamov trapped the puck between his left pad and the goalpost to keep it out. Tyler Pitlick jammed at Varlamov’s pad and knocked the puck across the goal line, and the play was reviewed before being declared no goal. But a turnover by Derick Brassard just inside the Islander blue line ended up leading to Matt Niskanen beating Varlamov on a right circle slapshot to put the Flyers up 3-1, for real, at 4:32 of the third period. The Islanders would tie the score and force overtime thanks to goals by Brock Nelson and Brassard, who scored his first goal of the playoffs with 2:41 remaining in regulation to force the overtime.
Varlamov (9-3 in the postseason) carried a 1.69 goals-against average, .935 save percentage, and two shutouts into Tuesday’s game. But Greiss (1-1, 1.68, .949) made 36 saves in Game 4 when the Isles won, 3-2, despite playing what Trotz said was their worst game of the postseason.