It took goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was scratched with a lower-body injury in the series opener, a few shifts to get his bearings in the Islanders’ 2-1 loss to the Penguins in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Just over three minutes into the game, Ryan Pulock turned the puck over in the Isles’ zone and Penguins winger Bryan Rust scooped it up before sending a shot that soared over Varlamov’s stagnant glove.
“If you talk to Varly, he’ll want that first one back,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the loss, which evened the series 1-1 heading to Long Island. “Any goaltender would want that first one back. After that, he was outstanding.”
Varlamov looked more like himself for the remainder of the game. The second goal he gave up, scored by Pittsburgh center Jeff Carter at 13:07, was a result of another defensive breakdown.
The Russian netminder gave the Islanders a chance to even the score in the third, coming up with save after save as the Penguins continued to pressure despite having the lead. He turned aside 43 of the 45 shots he faced, including 16 in the final 20 minutes.
Asked why he went with Varlamov in Game 2 after rookie Ilya Sorokin held his own in the Islanders’ Sunday’s overtime win, head coach Barry Trotz pointed to Varlamov’s stellar performance in the regular season.
“Varlamov has been our number one goalie all year,” Trotz said. “He’s got seven shutouts, he was outstanding, he set team records and he’s fully healthy. We wouldn’t be maybe in the playoffs if it wasn’t for Varly’s performance this year. That’s, to me, very simple. He was very close to being 100 percent [for Game 1], but we thought let’s make sure that he’s ready. Felt very confident in Sorokin’s ability to come in here and give us a good game, and he did. Varly backed it up with a really strong game, as well.
“I will tell you this, there will be a Russian goaltender in net for the Islanders next game.”
Mathew Barzal has yet to register a point through the first two games of the series, and Trotz believes there’s another gear the Islanders star center can get to.
“We’re going to need for him to do something,” Trotz said. “It’s hard sometimes, Mathew cares, he tries to do it by himself sometimes and the Penguins are doing a good job.”
Anders Lee is the Islanders’ nominee for the 2020-21 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is presented to “the power who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”
“There’s athletes that have a presence, I think since we made him captain, it’s just grown,” Trotz said of Lee, who was ruled out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury in mid-March. “He always had it, he probably held back a little bit with not being captain for a few years. But since we made him captain, you see the growth and why he’d be nominated for this award.
“From a captain standpoint, he’s the last person who thinks about himself. He thinks about team first, other players, families, all that. And then also the community. He loves the Island, he loves helping people. That’s just sort of in his DNA.”