Behind a surge of offense befitting of their name, the Colorado Avalanche unleashed four goals in a 4:21 span in the third period to pull away from the New York Islanders in a 5-4 victory on Monday night at UBS Arena.
And they needed every single ounce of it.
In what evolved into a seven-goal period, the Islanders mounted a late comeback with three goals of their own in a 7:35 stretch, but it wasn’t enough to get goaltender Semyon Varlamov on the right side of the result — which is where many netminders around the NHL would have been had they put together a performance like that.
Varlamov made 44 saves on 49 shots — the most allowed by the team this season — against the best team in hockey, who seemingly controlled nearly every nanosecond of Monday night’s affair, in what could very well be described as one of the finest outings by a goaltender ever to give up five goals in a game.
“Varly gave us every chance,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “He played unbelievable, made some incredible saves, and we let him down big time.”
That’s just the might of the Avalanche, though, who were spurred on by two goals from defenseman Cale Makar and three points from Nathan MacKinnon.
Yet out of nothing, it was the Islanders who initially took the lead 8:59 into the game when, off a turnover, Noah Dobson sent a perfectly cushioned penetrating pass between the circles to Anders Lee in front, who redirected the puck into an open net. It was the first of two goals on the night for the Islanders’ captain.
But Varlamov was beaten on the power-play after defenseman Andy Greene was called for a peculiarly soft cross-check. Just 50 seconds later, Makar snapped a wrister that wrang just inside Varlamov’s left post and in to tie things up with 5:42 left in the first.
It was a just equalizer given the Avalanche’s monopolization of play. They outshot the Islanders 20-7 in the first period alone — a figure that further stressed just how good Varlamov was to start just to keep his side in it.
The Islanders’ netminder continued to be a stalwart as the Avalanche lived up to their name in the second period. A flurry of chances over the first seven minutes was turned away by Varlamov — the finest coming on a desperation save that saw him throw his stick behind him at his right post to deny Makar of a second goal.
“He was the best player on the ice for both teams,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said.
The hosts had a golden opportunity to take the lead inside two minutes to go in the second when a shot from the point bounced off the back of Makar, who was down in front of Pavel Francouz’s net. Josh Bailey, who received the puck with a gaping net from just six feet out, however, pulled the backhander wide of the post to prompt a chorus of boos.
Cal Clutterbuck had another big chance for the Islanders in the first minute of the third period when he was able to turn a bouncing puck toward Francouz’s net, but it hit off the post and bounced away from danger.
And then it all came crashing down.
The Avalanche finally found a tiebreaker 4:06 into the third just moments after a power play expired. After Varlamov made another two big saves, the ensuing scramble allowed MacKinnon to sneak a wrister through a forest of Islanders to find twine.
Just 2:28 later, the Avalanche got a third when JT Compher one-timed a pass from Alex Newhook from behind the net over Varlamov.
Makar picked up his second of the night 1:07 later before Devon Toews, who made his first trip to New York since the Islanders traded him away two years ago, picked up his 12th goal of the year just 46 seconds after that.
“[I wasn’t surprised the floodgates opened] because they’re a high-octane club,” Trotz said. “You have to be resilient and we weren’t.”
Lee’s second of the night 11:58 into the period proved to be his 200th goal of his career, becoming just the 12th Islander in franchise history to reach that number. It was quickly followed up by a Cizikas clean up in front of Colorado’s goal 1:30 later.
With Varlamov pulled, Brock Nelson tallied his team-leading 21st of the season with a slapper from the point. But with 26.2 seconds to go, it proved too little too late.
“We ran up against a top level team and their top guys were feeling it,” Trotz added. “And without our goaltender, it could have been ugly. It was ugly for a while.”