Varlamov sparks Islanders’ playoff push after reunion with Roy

On March 27, the Islanders were six points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They’ve gone 7-1-1 since to surge into third in the division.

Varlamov has started six of the past eight games, and the Islanders have gone 5-1-0. He’s on a four-game personal winning streak, with a 1.74 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage, and one shutout. 

“The three years we were together (in Colorado), he played so well,” Roy said. “When he gets in his zone, when he’s focused like he is right now … he just wants to win. When I come to the rink, I don’t ask the question, does Varlamov want to win tonight? Varlamov wants to win every time he’s on the ice and every time he’s playing. 

“Varlamov is in the zone. I have a Jack Adams (for coach of the year in the NHL) because of him. So, I know how good he is. And I know what he could do when he gets in that zone.”

For the season, Varlamov is 13-8-4 in 27 games with a 2.66 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts. He hasn’t faced the Devils since Dec. 9, 2022, with Sorokin going 0-2-1 in the three games against New Jersey this season.

“I’m preparing the same way for every game. I don’t change anything,” Varlamov said. “I’m just focusing on my game, going out there, and trying to battle every game.

“I’m just looking at one game at a time. I don’t look back.”

Varlamov made 12 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for his 285th NHL win, surpassing Hockey Hall of Famer Tiny Thompson for 50th all-time. 

“Varlamov’s just as solid as they come, off the ice and on the ice,” Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said. “We have a lot of trust in him. I’m really happy for him that he’s playing so well. He’s been the backbone for us the last few games.”

Roy decided to give Varlamov a break on Saturday afternoon against the New York Rangers, going to Sorokin, who made 41 saves to help the Islanders earn a critical point in a 3-2 shootout loss. 

“I had zero concern (with starting Sorokin),” Roy said. “I was not even nervous because he played really well against Chicago and Columbus. It’s just that Varlamov has been red hot for us. That’s all it is. But I’m going to continue to say the same thing. We’re very fortunate to have two very good goaltenders.”

Sorokin is 24-19-12 in 54 games with a 2.99 GAA, .909 save percentage and two shutouts.

“Varlamov’s like reading a book — you can learn every day and I ask him questions, what I need to do better,” Sorokin said

Roy said, “He’s been so good for us, and he’s been so good for Ilya Sorokin. They’re very good friends. They’re very tight. He really helps him. He’s a phenomenal team guy. And that’s what I appreciate the most about Varlamov, upon the fact that he’s been playing very well.”

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