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Semyon Varlamov’s heroics, Mathew Barzal’s OT winner sends Islanders to All-Star break on high note

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Islanders Golden Knights
Semyon Varlamov (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

ELMONT — If Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders needed to remind anyone that he was still a top goalie in the NHL, Saturday night at UBS Arena will certainly help his case. 

The netminder, who has battled injuries and the gradual demotion that comes with being in the same rotation as All-Star Ilya Sorokin, stopped 44 of 45 shots faced in the Islanders’ 2-1 overtime victory against the Vegas Golden Knights, clinched by Mathew Barzal’s game-winning wrister with just 32 seconds remaining in the extra frame to send New York into the All-Star break on a high note.

“It’s always fun to win these games with two teams battling hard,” Varlamov said. “I felt like we had a lot of scoring chances and they had a lot of scoring chances… I think it was just a lot of fun to play this game.”

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New York (25-22-5, 55 points) wouldn’t have come within a whiff of a second-straight victory — which comes on the heels of a six-game losing streak — had it not been for the heroics of Varlamov during two massive flashpoints of the night. 

He put in a save-of-the-season candidate in the second period with a lunging stick stave to rob Reilly Smith to keep a slim 1-0 Islanders advantage before stopping William Carrier’s penalty shot attempt 26 seconds into overtime after it was deemed defenseman Adam Pelech hooked the Golden Knights’ forward on a breakaway.

Carrier attempted to beat Varlamov through the five-hole, but his pads were stacked to save the day.

“I mean, it’s nerve-wracking for both of us,” Varlamov admitted. “I’m glad it worked out for me.”

Just 4:06 later, Barzal called game when, toward the top of the zone, he sniped a wrister over the blocker of Knights goalie Logan Thompson, who had an impressive night himself with 35 saves on 37 shots.

“I just had a lane and wanted to let one go,” Barzal said. “For us to put ourselves right back in the mix, it’s huge going into the break.”

The Islanders were unlucky not to get on the board in the first period due to the play of Thompson. The Knights goalie stopped all 15 New York shots that came his way in the first, including multiple close-range chances by Kyle Palmieri before stoning Anthony Beauvillier on a 2-on-0 one-time set up by Mathew Barzal on a break. 

The burgeoning second line of the Islanders, though, found a way through 3:52 into the second period when Kyle Palmieri drove toward the Golden Knights’ net. While falling, the puck squirted to Anders Lee just in front of the crease, who poked it home to put the hosts ahead. 

It was Palmieri’s fifth assist in four games while Lee tallied his fourth goal in as many outings.

Vegas should have had an equalizer shortly after when Reilly Smith had a wide-open net just a few feet away, but Varlamov — on his knees and out of position — managed to lunge and extend his stick just enough to keep it out.

“It feels amazing [to make that save],” Varlamov said. “It feels like one of those saves you made, like, once a year. I’m glad I made the save. It was important in the right moment.”

Not to be outdone, Thompson and the Knights’ defense kept the Islanders’ lead to just one moments later when a scramble off a Ryan Pulock slapper nearly saw Lee chop the puck through the five-hole of Vegas’ netminder. The defense got the puck clear of the crease but only to Nelson, whose shot was blocked at the goal line by Alec Martinez. 

The Golden Knights found an equalizer with 3:52 to go in the second through Carrier, who was left all alone in front of the Islanders’ goal after a failed clear attempt to slot home a one-timer from a pass behind the net from Chandler Stephenson.

Sweeping a back-to-back, the Islanders move just two points behind the Pittsbrugh Penguins for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot heading into the All-Star break

“This kind of puts us right back in the hunt,” Barzal said. “So I’m sure we’re going to be hungry to have a good start off the break.”

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For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com