One team that would rather avoid having to face Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov in net would be the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Russian netminder excels when playing the Hawks, and last season was no different. Varlamov faced Chicago three times and finished 3-0, allowing just three goals and improving to 9-3 in his career when facing Colorado’s division opponent.
These latest victories against the Stanley Cup Champions didn’t come easy either. For example, on Jan. 6, the Avalanche faced the Blackhawks in Chicago, and Varlamov gave one of the best puck-stopping performances of the year. The Avs were able to get two quick tallies in the first period and that would be more than enough for Varlamov to take over.
The 27-year-old keeper was able to blank the Blackhawks, stopping all 54 shots that came his way. On top of that, he set the NHL record for the most saves in a regular-season shutout on the road as well as the franchise record for the most saves in a shutout.
"Today we did a great job of boxing out the players," said Varlamov after his record-setting performance. "I saw most of the shots, which is really important for me; to see the shot from the blue line.”
His teammates were impressed by his individual effort.
“He was out of his mind,” said Alex Tanguay. “But it’s like a good pitcher in baseball, it’s like a good QB in football. If you have a good goaltender on every single night, you're going to get a chance to win. That’s what Varly did. He won that game by himself.”
Varlamov went on a roll after that, following up his performance against Chicago by stopping 36 shots in a 5-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 8 and then turning aside 37 shots on net in a 4-3 win over Dallas on Jan. 10. He did all of this in a span of just six days.
The Avs goaltender, who posted a 1.67 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage during that period, went on to be named the Second Star of the Week for his work in the three consecutive victories.
“I’m happy to see Varly playing that well,” said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy during Varlamov’s dominant streak in January. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of confidence to our team as well.”
From Jan. 15 to March 8, Varlamov played 22 games in a row, making him the fourth goalie in franchise history to play in 20 or more straight contests.
He didn’t stop there either. Varlamov was again named the Second Star of the Week, this time for his 3-0 effort from March 1-8. The netminder had an outstanding 0.69 goals-against average, a .981 save percentage and another shutout over that time, proving himself to be a brick wall when his club needed it.
Varlamov made 28 saves against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-1 victory, blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets by denying all 44 shots that came his way and then stopped another 29 shots on goal in a 3-2 win over Minnesota.
On top of all that, Varlamov was just 5:04 shy of tying his career-high shutout streak (129:23) set in 2012.
"It's always calming when you have Varly back there. He gives you a chance every night," Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie said in March. "I think he's the MVP of this team every night.”
Overall, Varlamov went 28-20-8 on the year, posting a 2.56 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and collecting a career-high five shutouts. Three of those perfect games were 40-plus save efforts, making him just the third goaltender since the 1967-68 expansion to post three shutouts in such a manner during a single campaign.
A year removed from finishing the season as a Vezina Trophy finalist, Varlamov showed flashes of brilliance once again in 2014-15 despite having to deal with multiple injuries throughout the campaign. The young Russian has established himself as one of the more talented netminders in the NHL, and the Avalanche is happy to have him between the pipes.