Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves and the New York Islanders got goals from Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock to beat the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1, on Sunday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals in Tampa, Fla.
Varlamov won his fourth straight playoff start, joining teammate Ilya Sorokin as only the third pair of goaltenders from the same team to have personal winning streaks of at least four games in a single postseason.
Sorokin won four in a row during New York’s first-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Varlamov won all four games in the second round, including the final three as the Islanders rallied to eliminate the Bruins.
The Islanders are the first team since the 1980 Philadelphia Flyers (Phil Myre, Pete Peeters) to have two goaltenders with win streaks of at least four games in the same playoff year. The Bruins (Eddie Johnston, Gerry Cheevers) were the first in 1972.
Barzal opened the scoring when he took a pass from Josh Bailey and skated in just ahead of pursuing defender Jan Rutta to slip the puck through Andrei Vasilevskiy’s pads at 12:32 of the second period.
Pulock sent a shot past the Vezina Trophy finalist from just inside the blue line for a two-goal lead at 5:36 of the third.
The Islanders helped themselves by staying out of the penalty box for most the afternoon, limiting the Lightning to just two power-play opportunities — the last coming with 1:38 remaining and producing Tampa Bay’s only goal.
With Vasilevskiy on the bench, the Lightning who already had six skaters on the ice when New York’s Brock Nelson drew a penalty for high-sticking, took advantage on the 6-on-4 to get on the board with Brayden Point’s ninth goal this postseason with 53 seconds to go.
The best-of-seven series that continues in Tampa on Tuesday night is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final, won by the Lightning in six games.
Most of the players are the same, including Varlamov and Vasilevskiy, and the Lightning are very familiar with New York coach Barry Trotz, who has faced them at this stage of the playoffs three of the past four seasons.
Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 shots.
Canadiens have the history, but Vegas is a runaway favorite
Growing up in Quebec, Marc-Andre Fleury has such respect for the Canadiens’ rich history, the Golden Knights goalie uses the formal “mister” when referencing Montreal’s notable stars.
Such was the case Saturday upon being informed the team invited former Montreal forward and GM Bob Gainey to address the Canadiens in preparation of their Stanley Cup semifinal series, which opens at Vegas on Monday.
“They have such a huge history behind that team. They’ve won many times before. It’s nice for them to have guys like Mr. Gainey coming back and talking to them,” Fleury said of the Canadiens’ five-time Cup winner.
“But I don’t know, the game is still played on the ice. It doesn’t matter if you have 24 Cups,” he added. “I think you’ve got to be able to play in the moment.”
The Canadiens, founded in 1909, predate Las Vegas’ incorporation as a city by two years. Yet history only gets you so far in a series the Golden Knights are considered heavy favorites in.
Vegas makes its third semifinals appearance in its fourth year of existence. The team finished the regular season with 16 more wins and 23 more points than Montreal. Following a seven-game first-round victory over Minnesota, the Golden Knights overcame a 2-0 series deficit to win four straight against President’s Trophy-winning Colorado.
The Canadiens, whose 24-21-11 record was the worst among the 16 playoff qualifiers and who fired coach Claude Julien in February, are accustomed to being overlooked and proudly embrace being underdogs.
“We believe in ourselves,” interim coach Dominique Ducharme said. “Not too many people did starting the playoffs. We don’t care if it changes or not.”