Semyon Varlamov had a spectacular season in 2013-14 as he led the NHL in wins, and carried the Colorado Avalanche at times during the season. There’s little doubt that he is the goaltender for the Avalanche going forward but the question must be asked, can he win a Stanley Cup?
The reason for the question comes out of his playoff performance versus the Minnesota Wild. Varlamov wasn’t terrible by any means, but his performance did not live up to the standards he set in the regular season.
Outside of game three, a 1-0 overtime loss, Varlamov gave up two or more goals in the other six games. The two games that were most disturbing were the last two games of the series, a win in either one of those and the Avalanche win the series.
In game six after the Wild took a 2-0 lead, the Avalanche fought back and tied it. With all of the momentum of the game and the series seemingly in the Avalanches’ favor, Varlamov allowed what can only be described as a soft goal. That single goal swung the momentum back to the Wild who went on to win game six, and force a game seven.
In game seven, the Avalanche kept taking one goal leads and looked to have control of the game on several occasions. Varlamov was unable to hold any of those leads and while it’s certainly not all his fault, at least a couple of those shots should have been stopped.
Despite the lack of ability to hold on the any of their one goal leads, the Avalanche appeared to have won the game with a goal fairly late in the third period. Once again, however, Varlamov gave up a goal on a shot from the blue line that just has to be stopped. As we all know, the Avalanche went onto lose in overtime 5-4.
If you would have told me the morning of game seven that the Avalanche were going to score four goals, I would have enjoyed a very relaxing day. Four goals should be enough to win 90% of hockey games, and 99% of game sevens.
Great goalies, championship goalies steal at least one or two games in every series and Varlamov did not do that versus the Wild. That’s not to say he can’t be a great postseason goalie, but he will have to improve on his most recent performance if the Avalanche want to be champions.
Was the loss to the Wild all Varlamov’s fault? Of course not, the defense in front of him was not nearly as good as it should have been. Especially when protecting a one goal lead late in a game seven, there were far too many open guys and uncontested shots. The loss of defenseman Tyson Barrie was very apparent in games six and seven.
The defenseman and forwards for that matter must do a better job of blocking shot, staying in lanes and keeping the traffic away from Varlamov. Teams are going to be more aggressive in the playoffs, going to the net and creating traffic; the Avalanche must adjust to that and help their goalie.
The Avalanche also had a tendency to sit back and play too defensive in the playoffs. The three games in Minnesota were really lopsided in terms of puck possession and shots. Varlamov was under siege in all of those games and, in some respects, it’s a wonder that the Avalanche were even in any of those games.
In game seven, the Avalanche were playing aggressive hockey until they got a lead. Every time they took a one goal lead, they sat back and tried to protect that lead. That’s when the Wild took advantage and were able to put pressure on the Avalanche that led to the tying goal each and every time.
One of the goals for Head Coach Patrick Roy going into next season has to be playing more aggressive all of the time. They sit on leads too often when a second goal would often bury the opposing teams. Had the Avalanche gone up two goals at any point on the Wild in game seven, they would have moved on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in round two.
So what’s the answer to the question? Yes Varlamov is more than good enough to lead the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup. He didn’t have the regular season he had because he was lucky and he has all the tools to win in April and May.
Varlamov needs to play better than he did in this past postseason but he also needs help from the players in front of him. There were some soft goals but there were also too many Wild players roaming free in front of Varlamov. The ability is there and if he gets the necessary support, then Varlamov will hoist the Cup in Colorado in the near future.