Russian goalies highlight Lightning-Islanders series

NEW YORK — Semyon Varlamov is the wily veteran, coming off a season in which he set career bests in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts for the New York Islanders.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is the league’s wins leader over the past four years for the Tampa Bay Lightning, coming off a Stanley Cup championship season and vying for his second Vezina Trophy in three years.

The two countrymen were teammates, too, a long way from the NHL playoffs.

“He’s been the best goalie in the NHL last couple of years,” Varlamov said of his counterpart. “He’s outstanding.”

The two were on Russia’s World Cup of Hockey squad in 2016, playing behind starter Sergei Bobrovsky. Last September, they squared off when the Islanders and Lightning met in the Eastern Conference finals, which Tampa Bay won in six games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The Russian netminders are part of a renaissance of sorts, one that was featured in last year’s postseason. This year, the showdown could be the deciding factor in the teams’ Stanley Cup semifinal series, which is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Thursday night.

“I like this kid, but now we play against each other,” the 33-year-old Varlamov said. “He’s a very big goalie, very athletic, and won a Cup last year, won the Vezina Trophy. I can say a lot of great things about him.”

The 26-year-old Vasilevskiy has been the unquestioned starter for the Lightning since they traded Ben Bishop at the deadline in February 2017. Vasilevskiy has responded by totaling a league-best 149 wins over the past four seasons. He also holds franchise records for career wins (190), shutouts (26), games (302), and single-season marks for victories (44) and shutouts (eight).

Vasilevskiy, finishing the first year of an eight-year, $76 million extension, went 31-10-1 this season with a career-low 2.21 GAA and .925 save percentage.

“He’s super-competitive and he doesn’t like to lose,” Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov said. “He’s been unreal.”

Varlamov has been part of a tandem in New York the last two years after signing with the Islanders for four years, $20 million as a free agent. He split time with Thomas Greiss last season, starting 39 of the team’s 67 games and 19 of 22 in the playoff run. In 2021, he was paired with 25-year-old rookie Ilya Sorokin, a fellow Russian, and finished 19-11-4 with career bests of a 2.04 GAA, .929 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz has credited Varlamov for being “low maintenance” and quickly shaking off a bad play or bad night.

“Varly is one of those guys that (when he) has a bad game, you want to throw him in there right away because you know he’s going to come back with a really good game,” he said.

Varlamov missed the opener in the first round against Pittsburgh due to an injury and Sorokin won the game. Varlamov returned for the next two games, which the Islanders lost, so Trotz turned back to Sorokin, who was unbeatable as the Islanders won three straight to advance.

After Sorokin lost the opener of the second round to Boston, Trotz went back to Varlamov, citing his strong career record against the Bruins, and the Islanders advanced again.

“In our minds, Varly is one of the best goalies in the league,” Islanders forward Jordan Eberle said.

In this series, Varlamov has stopped 53 of 58 shots, leaving Game 2 briefly after getting run into. Sorokin stopped all six shots he faced while filling in.

Vasilevskiy also has 53 saves on 57 shots, and has helped the Lightning avoid consecutive losses in the last two postseasons while they improved to 11-0 in games following a defeat.

GAME 3 PIVOT

In each of their first two series, the Islanders lost Game 3 at home to fall into a 2-1 series deficit before rebounding with three straight victories to advance.

“We just have to focus in on the next shift,” Trotz said. “There’s no magic formula to do that. I think we’ve approached every game the same way. We understand the importance of our home ice, our building. They’re going to come, we’ve got to respond. We lost the game last night and it’s our turn to respond.”

The Lightning also lost Game 3 in each of their first two series, against Florida and Carolina. However, those were at home after Tampa Bay won each of the first two games on the road. Overall, the Lightning are 5-1 on the road in the playoffs this year.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.