The Florida Panthers face-off in a best-of-five series against the New York Islanders starting August 1. To escape the Isles, the Panthers will have to find a way to score on whichever one of its rock-solid tandem of goaltenders is between the pipes.
After eight seasons and 389 games with the Colorado Avalanche, the Russian goalie signed a four-year, $20 million contract witht the Islanders on July 1 to replace Robin Lehner, who ended up inking a free-agent deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The signing was a curious one after Lehner’s Vezina-worthy turn in 2018-19, but general manager Lou Lamoriello maintained that they had been eyeing Varlamov for quite sometime and made the long-term commitment to him early in the summer.
Varlamov earned the start in New York’s season-opener and made 26 saves in a tough 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. After surrendering four goals in a 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in his next outing, Varlamov didn’t suffer a regulation loss again until November 27. Included in that run was a 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers in the first of the three meetings between the two teams. With the regular season winding down and the team in front of him struggling, Varlamov dropped his last four decisions, giving up four goals in each of the defeats. His last win, a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, came on February 23 at Nassau Coliseum.
The now 32-year-old Russian finished the season with a 19-14-6 record, 2.62 GAA and . 914 save percentage. Those numbers fall in line with his career stats. He also posted two shutouts in 2019-20. Varlamov stopped all 27 shots in a 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on November 2, and in one of New York’s best defensive performances of the seasons, he blanked the high-scoring Colorado Avalanche, with his 32 saves backstopping the team to a 1-0 victory on home ice on January 6.
Varlamov has appeared in a total of 26 postseason games in his career and has a 13-13 record. In 2009, he led the Washington Capitals to a first round win over the New York Rangers before they were dispatched in seven games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2010, Varlamov played in six games of a seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens, ending up on the wrong side of a 2-1 in the final game at Verizon Center. In 2014, he went 3-4 as the Avalanche were upset in seven games by the Minnesota Wild.
This German keeper might go a little bit under radar from a league-wide standpoint, but Panthers fans got an up close look at how good he can be when he outplayed Roberto Luongo in the Cats painful opening round loss to the Islanders in the 2016 playoffs.
Greiss was pretty impenetrable during the first half of the season, posting an eight-game winning streak from October 14 to November 21. This period included his 37-save tour de force in a 2-1 win over the Panthers on November 9. Greiss would stop 32 shots in a 3-1 victory over the Cats in Sunrise on December 12 to help the Islanders complete season series sweep. Like Varalamov, Griess enters the postseason on a four-game losing streak, with his last win (a 5-3 decision over the Capitals) coming all the way back on February 10.
After sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy with Lehner in 2018-19, Greiss was due for some statistical regression and that did indeed happen, but his numbers were still very respectable overall. He finished the season with a 16-9-4 record, a 2.74 GAA and a .913 save percentage, but his play during the second half wasn’t on par with his early season performance.
Greiss has been between the pipes in a total of 13 playoff games in his career. His first, and only, postseason game with San Jose Sharks was a relief appearance against the Detroit Red Wings back in 2010. In 2016, he led the Islanders past the Panthers in six games before they bounced in five by the Tampa Bay Lightning. In last year’s playoff, Greiss relieved Lehner in Game 3 of New York’s second round sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz seemed to favor Varlamov as the second half of the season wore on, in large part due to some inconsistencies in Greiss’ game, so look for New York’s 1A to get the Game 1 start versus the Panthers, with the capable German 1B waiting in the wings if he falters