Semyon Varlamov hadn’t registered a playoff shutout since 2009, but now he’s recorded two in the span of four days.
With 29 saves in a 4-0 rout of the Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, Varlamov collected his fourth career playoff shutout as he blanked the Islanders’ second straight opponent following another 4-0 win over the Capitals to close out their first-round series last week.
“We’re playing well defensively, of course I’m going to mention that,” Varlamov said on a Zoom call following the win. “The guys played unbelievable in front of me again, [Andy Greene] made some big saves in the first period so I appreciated that. It feels good to get back-to-back shutouts, but at this point it’s not about shutouts. It’s playoff hockey so for me the most important thing is to get the win and get ready for the next game.
“Of course I’m excited about it, I’m not going to lie, but it is what it is.”
Varlamov has been the Islanders’ starting goaltender since arriving in the Toronto bubble, but a heavy schedule for their second-round series may open a door for a change in net.
Coach Barry Trotz has been clear since the start of the postseason that he would make lineup decisions based on his assessment of each game, how a series is going and how each player is performing. But it’s safe to say that Varlamov, who’s started all 10 games the Islanders have played this postseason, has passed every evaluation.
However, with two sets of back-to-back games scheduled for the best-of-seven series, Trotz wouldn’t commit to sticking with Varlamov the whole way. There may be a situation where Trotz will opt to go with Thomas Greiss instead.
“I think what we want to do is take it one game at a time,” Trotz said on a Zoom call prior to Game 1. “I feel very blessed that we have two goaltenders who can jump in there if anything happens. We have back-to-back’s so those decisions may come into play as well.
“I feel comfortable with our goaltending just because I know both these goaltenders and their abilities. Sometimes you try to stay with the hot hand a little longer and that’s sort of what we did during the year, we split them up and then we’ve ridden guys for four or five games and then switched back. That gives me a comfort level that is undeniable with both those guys.”
Both goaltenders split the regular season relatively evenly, with Varlamov earning 39 starts compared to Greiss’ 28. But Trotz gave the postseason starting nod to Varlamov, who hasn’t given any reason to make a change after limiting teams to just two goals or fewer in eight of his 10 starts.
Trotz made some adjustments to the lineup Monday as fourth-line winger Cal Clutterbuck became available after taking a low hit in Game 4 of the opening series and missing Game 5 against the Capitals.
Clutterbuck was reinserted into the lineup in his usual fourth line role, while Leo Komarov was bumped back up to the third line. Ross Johnston remained in on the third line, while Michael Dal Colle was removed after making his postseason debut in Game 5 against Washington.
Derick Brassard was listed as a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
“I think everybody is prepared,” Trotz said. “It’s really simple, I think the players get all the credit for that because they prepare and they know if they get into the lineup they can contribute and they can be a positive influence on the outcome of a game.
“It’s a good feeling for sure. The players get all the credit for that, they’re preparing, they’re ready. There’s some guys that are mentally staying in even if they haven’t gotten a chance in a game. They’re ready.”
According to a team release, only 20 percent of Islanders’ season tickets remain available for the inaugural 2021-22 season at UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
The arena has sold more than one-third of its suite inventory in the last two weeks, while the organization has commitments from 10,000 season-ticket holders.