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Rambler's Top100

Varly puts on unlikely goat horns
01.05.2014. Kiszla, Mark. Denver Post

In an arena stunned into silence by the shock of a 5-4 overtime loss that eliminated the Avalanche from the NHL playoffs, a tough, awkward question hung in the air: Is Semyon Varlamov a goalie Colorado can trust in a big game?

He was beaten at five minutes, two seconds into overtime on a hard shot by Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter.

The crowd chanted "Varly! Varly! Varly!" to console him on a disappointing night.

"Nobody wants to lose in the first round," Varlamov said.

Here's the truth: He failed to glove a shot that would have kept the Avalanche alive. Four times, Colorado gave Varlamov a one-goal lead. Four times, Varlamov failed to hold it.

"Being up a goal four times and not being able to win is definitely disappointing," Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon said.

In the 2009 playoffs, while between the pipes for Washington, Varlamov was pulled after allowing four early goals in a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

At the Winter Olympics in his homeland of Russia, Varlamov was pulled in a stunning 3-1 loss to Finland that eliminated the home country from medal contention.

On the eve of an elimination game against Minnesota, I asked Colorado forward Paul Stastny the first memory that came to mind of a Game 7 that left a lasting impression on him as a child, when his eyes were full of wonder for hockey.

"Detroit 7, Colorado 0," said Stastny, without a second of hesitation.

Heck, that memory could scare a kid for life. The Game 7 Stastny remembers was the last night of the Avalanche dynasty. Detroit blew out Colorado to win the Western Conference finals in 2002. That was the beginning of the end for Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and what had been the NHL's most fearsome team for the better part of a decade.

"Well, growing up, what you remember about Game 7s are either the real nail-biters or the total blowouts," said Stastny, whose blast from the slot gave Colorado a 3-2 lead early in the third period.

Nail-biter? The Avs and Wild gave the entire city of Denver a reason for a manicure.

There's no trapping the butterflies in a Game 7. There's no sense even trying, Avalanche veteran Max Talbot said. The tension a player feels in a Game 7 is indeed stuff of a kid's dreams.

But the sense of calm a team takes on the ice in a Game 7 rests on the shoulders of the goaltender. Every save builds the faith in a home arena where palms are sweaty and hearts race with anxiety. Any sign of duress can spread through the rest of a goalie's teammates.

So we hold this hockey truth to be self-evident: The most important player on the ice in a Game 7 is the goaltender.

"Of course," said Roy, one of the greatest goalies to make a big save in a big game.

On two hot teams, two talented teams, two fearless teams, the one distinct advantage the Avalanche seemed to have in Game 7 was between the pipes. Varlamov is a Vezina Trophy candidate. Darcy Kuemper looks as if he's a country bumpkin fresh off the bus in the big city.

"It's a team game, and everybody has an important role," Roy said. "But can't disagree that the goaltender plays a major role in a big Game 7, for sure."

A shaken Kuemper left the game, replaced by Ilya Brzgalov, a little past the midway point of the third period.

Were all the goals Varly's fault? No. But did he stand tall when Avs needed him most? Absolutely not.

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Colorado clinging to a 4-3 lead and a playoff showdown against Chicago within sight, Varlamov came up small when he allowed Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon to score an unassisted goal.

"I'll lose some sleep," MacKinnon said.

For any goalie who favors the butterfly technique, one of the toughest tasks is to stay patient and square to the shot under pressure. With Spurgeon to his left flank, Varlamov dropped to the ice too soon against Spurgeon and was beaten high.

It was far from a terrible mistake. But it fell far short of a save that should be expected from Varlamov, given a five-year, $29.5 million contract extension in January.

"It was heartbreaking, for sure," said Avs forward Matt Duchene.

Страничка Семёна Варламова на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


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