TAMPA — The evidence that Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov was snubbed in the Vezina Trophy voting continues to mount.
As Varlamov went save-for-save with the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of the three finalists for the award, the Islanders were able to pull out a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at Amalie Arena on Sunday. Varlamov was on the cusp of a shutout until 19:06 of the third period, when Brayden Point capitalized on the Lightning’s six-on-four power play to make it a one-goal game.
“Vasilevskiy, to me, he’s the best goalie in the NHL,” Varlamov said of his fellow countryman after his sixth win of the postseason. “He’s been the best goalie in the NHL the last couple of years. He’s outstanding and then he’s also a great person, very humble guy. But now we play against each other. He’s a very big goalie, very athletic, won the Cup last year. I mean, what can I say? I can say a lot of great things about him.”
The two Russian goalies dazzled through a scoreless first period, alerting each team that it was going to take a lot more to get the puck past them. Varlamov survived the Islanders’ first power-play, which didn’t look much like a man-advantage as the Lightning had three shorthanded shots on goal.
Varlamov, who finished with 30 saves on 31 shots, robbed Alex Killorn on at least three of the Lightning second-line winger’s four shots throughout the game.
“In our minds, Varly is one of the best goalies in the league,” said Jordan Eberle, who assisted on Ryan Pulock’s game-winning goal in the third period. “It’s no surprise. He’s been there all year for us.”
Mathew Barzal has goals in four of the Islanders’ past five games after going scoreless through the first eight games of the postseason.
“I’d say it’s more so just I’m actually putting the puck in the net,” he said after the win. “I think my chances throughout the whole season, or in the playoffs, are always there. It’s just a matter of beating the goalie. I thought during the Pittsburgh series, when I didn’t score, [I was] still playing well and playing the right way.”
Oliver Wahlstrom took pregame warmups for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 5 of the first-round series against the Penguins, but he was scratched and missed an eighth straight game.
After scoring two goals Sunday, the Islanders lead the NHL with 45 goals this postseason. Their 3.46 goals per game average is the highest in the league among the final four teams.
Out of their current lineup, aside from the goalies, only five players have yet to score this postseason.
“That’s part of our DNA,” Josh Bailey said prior to the series. “We need all lines firing, every pair going great goaltending, which we’ve got. Guys contributing, everyone has their own ingredient they bring to the team and no one is bigger or better than the other. I think we rely on each other and that’s what makes our group special.”
The series marks just the second time in the last 20 years that two NHL teams have met in consecutive semifinals.