Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky were arguably the two most coveted free agent goalies last summer. When the NHL resumes play, they’ll be in net when the New York Islanders face the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Which veteran netminder has the edge?
Sergei Bobrovsky has about every regular season accolade a goalie could ask for. He won the Vezina Trophy and was named to the All-Star First Team in 2013 and 2017, and was an All-Star in 2015 and 2017.
His playoff record, however, is much more underwhelming. Until 2019, Bobrovsky played in 24 playoff games over five different seasons. But as the starting goaltender, his team never made it out of the first round. Until last season, his best peripheral stats came in the 2014 playoffs when the Blue Jackets lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
Only last season, when the Blue Jackets stunned the Lightning in the first round, did Bobrovsky have a SV% above .910.
The one thing that stands out with Sergei Bobrovsky is that he is a workhorse. When his team has made the playoffs, his total games played in those seasons are 54, 29, 58, 63, 65, and 62 games. The Panthers must be hoping that the added rest this year can bring out the best in Bobrovsky.
“I believe I have a chance to win the Stanley Cup with this team,” Bobrovsky told the Russian website Sport24 in July.
After signing a seven-year, $10 million contract with the Panthers on July 1st, he posted a 23-19-6 record with a .900 SV% and 3.23 GAA. The Panthers would have had slim odds to even sneak into the playoffs if the season ended normally.
Bobrovsky is best known for his strong lateral movements and covers the lower half of the net amazingly. One save that stands out is when he denied Andreas Athanasiou on a two-on-zero in overtime in 2017. He had to move laterally twice in one play and still robbed the Red Wings forward of an easy goal.
Despite his record, Bobrovsky is one of the most proven goaltenders in the league, and he’s extremely dangerous if he gets hot.
Like the Panthers, the Islanders needed a starting goalie last summer. They turned to a veteran Russian to fill the role. After Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov was arguably the best of the second-tier goalies on the market in July.
He has a career 2.67 goals-against average and .915% save percentage. In his 12 NHL seasons, he’s had some incredible ones. In 2013-2014, he played 63 games for the Colorado Avalanche, winning 41; however, injuries also slowed him down at times, like they did in 2016-2017. He only won six of 27 games that year on an Avalance team that was at the bottom of the standings.
Varlamov hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2014 with Colorado. He didn’t play in the Avalanche’s last two playoff appearances due to injuries and losing the starting job to Philipp Grubauer. In 26 playoff games over three seasons, he has a 2.57 GAA and .915 SV%.
But if the Islanders choose Varlamov to start, they’ll need him to play his best. Head coach Barry Trotz spoke to the importance of having good goaltending in the playoffs.
“Goaltending can steal you a series,” Trotz told ESPN 98.7 FM. “If you get goaltending above the curve, you have an immense advantage.”
The Islanders will get that when Varlamov is moving calmly in the net. A scouting report from sportsforecaster.com notes that as one of his strengths. They also mention his great reflexes and glove hand. He used that glove hand to rob Boston’s Anders Bjork in December.
Semyon Varlamov played well for the Islanders this season, and they’ll need him to find a groove if they want to make noise this summer.