Islanders yet to make decision if Semyon Varlamov starts Game 3 vs. Hurricanes

Semyon Varlamov Islanders
New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) watches the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Semyon Varlamov has been the furthest thing from an issue for the New York Islanders in Games 1 and 2 of their opening-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the netminder’s status for Game 3 is uncertain for now, according to head coach Patrick Roy on Tuesday.

“We haven’t made the decision yet,” Roy said on whether it would be Varlamov or Ilya Sorokin manning the crease on Thursday night at UBS Arena. 

The 35-year-old veteran started each of the first two games of a series in which the Islanders lost down in Raleigh, saving 57 of 63 shots (.905 save percentage) against an aggressive Hurricanes team that overcame a 3-0 deficit in Game 2 by overwhelming the Islanders. They out-attempted New York 110-28 which featured just three shots on goals from the visitors after taking a three-goal lead early in the second period. Varlamov made 34 saves in the 5-3 loss.

“He’s been unbelievable,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “In the series, he’s been really good. He’s given us a chance each night. He’s made big saves in key moments. I think it’s up to us in front of him to do a little better job at times.”

Islanders Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes’ Stefan Noesen (23) gets hit by the puck while battling New York Islanders’ Noah Dobson (8) next to goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Both losses in Carolina featured similar tendencies. The Hurricanes led the NHL in shot attempts per game this season and exhibited long stretches of domineering play in the Islanders’ zone that put Varlamov under plenty of duress. Simply put, if the puck is on a Carolina stick in the Islanders’ zone, the puck is making its way to the net regardless of where said player is positioned.

“What I like about Varly is that he kept a lot of pucks around,” Roy said, lauding his goalie’s ability to cut down rebounds. “This is a team that shoots a lot, they shoot from everywhere. I mean, they even took a shot from the outside the building. At the end of the day, they’re very active offensively, they love to put pucks at the net, they love to drive the net. So Varly kept a lot of pucks around him and that’s what I love about Varly — not giving too many rebounds, holding pucks. That helps our D.”

The strong play has been a continuation of what became commonplace down the stretch. As the Islanders clawed their way into a playoff spot with wins in nine of their final 10 games, Varlamov was exceptional: seven wins in his final eight appearances with a .936 save percentage.

It won him the starting job entering the playoffs over Sorokin, New York’s No. 1 goalie who regressed after finishing second in the Vezina Trophy voting last season.

“Varlamov has been phenomenal down the stretch for us,” Roy said. “If we made the playoffs, he had a big part to play in it.” 

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