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A Record-Setting Night For Varlamov

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

It was a game that Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov may not fully appreciate until after the season, or possibly after his playing career is over.

The man—whose name often rains down from the upper bowl of Pepsi Center in the form of 'Varly, Varly' chants—likely backstopped the best game of his NHL career on Tuesday, making 54 saves in the Avs' 2-0 shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's exciting, I can tell," Varlamov said moments after leaving the ice at United Center. "I'm so exhausted right now."

Semyon Varlamov

Varlamov's career-high 54 stops were the most by an Avalanche goalie since the team moved to Denver in 1995 and were the second most in franchise history behind Ron Tugnutt's 70 saves with the Quebec Nordiques on March 21, 1991 at Boston. The 26-year-old's previous high was 50 saves on Feb. 16, 2013 against Edmonton.

Added with the shutout performance, Varlamov wrote his name into the history books a few more times as well. He is just the third NHL goalie in the expansion era with a shutout of 54 or more saves, joining Edmonton's Ben Scrivens (59, Jan. 29, 2013) and Phoenix's Mike Smith (54, April 3, 2012). Varlamov also set the NHL record for the most saves in a regular-season shutout on the road since shots on goal became an official NHL statistic in 1955-56.

Varlamov was on his game throughout the 60 minutes, and he wouldn't let cramps late in the contest give the Blackhawks a chance at a goal and hope of getting back into the game.

In the final minutes, Varlamov was seen on the ice stretching his legs during stoppages of play and spent the majority of Colorado's late timeout making sure his muscles wouldn't stop working in the last 51 seconds.

"I was cramping really bad at the end of the game in the last minute," he said.

Both Varlamov and the Avalanche defense were up to the challenge of Chicago's offensive blitz, and at the end of the night, the Hawks went back to the locker room with a zero on the scoreboard to show for their labor. Officially, Chicago only got three shots on goal after pulling netminder Corey Crawford with less than three minutes to go, while missing on another attempt and having three others blocked.

The 2014 Vezina Trophy finalist made 16 saves in the final stanza after stopping 17 shots in the first period and 21 in the second.

"Obviously, Varly was the story of the game," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. "He was outstanding out there. He made some really good saves. The quality of their team, they put a lot of shots on net, especially from outside the dots. They shoot from everywhere, and they drive the net. Again, a strong performance by our goaltender."

Said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville: "The third period, we put everything at the net, including bodies, which we didn’t do a good job of [in] the first 40 minutes. But he made a couple of big saves in the third period with traffic.”

After getting down 2-0 in the first 1:17 of the contest, the Hawks began their onslaught of shots, looking to get one past Varlamov with hopes of it quickly leading to another score to tie the game. Despite their efforts, that didn't happen.

The Avs did a good job of clearing lanes in front of the goal so their netminder could get reads on the pucks flying toward him, many of which came from the perimeter.

"Today we did a great job of boxing out the players," Varlamov said. "I saw most of the shots, which is really important for me; to see the shot from the blue line."

Despite the 54 shots against, Roy was overall satisfied with how the Avs defended a club known for its firepower and that threw everything—including the kitchen sink—at Varlamov.

"It's more the scoring chances than anything else," the Colorado coach said. "We know that these guys are going to have a lot of shots on net, and Varly was solid on those ones. Every shot from the outside, he did a good job of making those saves. I thought our defensemen and forwards did a good job of coming back and helping him.

"Yes, it is a lot of shots, but I'm not disappointed. When you win, you win. That's the way I look at it right now."

Really, Varlamov having success against the Blackhawks isn't anything new. The Samara, Russia native has won his last five games against Chicago and now owns an 8-3-0 record, two shutouts, a 2.01 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 12 career games against the Avalanche's Central Division foe.

For Varlamov, it was just another day at the office.

"One thing's for sure, he could not lose his focus. He had plenty of work out there," Roy said. "Varly is one of our best players, and if we want a chance to get back in the playoff picture it is going to start from him."

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