Semyon Varlamov is still working on mastering the English language, but his game translates anywhere.
The Avalanche goaltender has been outstanding in Colorado's first-round series against Minnesota, but it was his work in the regular season that made him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the top netminder in the NHL.
Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop are the other two finalists for the honor, which was announced Friday and will be presented during the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas on June 24.
“Of course it’s a big deal for me. I’ve never been nominated for the Vezina,” Varlamov said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Varlamov is in the running for the award after one of the best seasons in franchise history. His 41 wins broke Patrick Roy’s record set in 2000-01, and he led the league in shots faced (2,013) and saves (1,867).
Roy was happy to have his record broken and has consistently said Varlamov should win the NHL MVP after the season he put together.
“He should be a candidate for the Hart Trophy,” Roy said. “That’s as high as I think of him right now. Varly has been our best player; he’s been phenomenal for us from the get-go.”
Varlamov was outstanding in the Avs' two games in Minnesota this week, keeping his team in both contests and giving Colorado a chance to steal both. He stopped the first 45 shots by the Wild on Monday before the Avalanche lost a hard-fought game, 1-0, in overtime. He then followed that with a 30-save performance in Game 4, which was decided by a Minnesota goal that came on a tough-luck bounce in the second period.
His performance in the postseason is a continuation of how he played in the regular season. He was one of the biggest reasons for Colorado’s turnaround after posting just 16 wins in 2012-13.
Still, he deflected credit when asked about being named a Vezina Trophy finalist.
“Without my teammates, I don’t think I could win this trophy, because my teammates have done a great job for me this year, played very well for me,” he said. “My coaches, [Colorado goaltending coach] Francois Allaire, Patrick, they've done a great job for me as well. That’s why I have a good result.”
Roy and Allaire mentored Varlamov in the summer, and the goalie was a willing pupil. Varlamov said Allaire worked with him on lateral movement and convinced Varlamov to hold his glove higher and at a slightly different angle, giving shooters less net.
The results were significant. His goals-against average went from 3.02 last season to 2.41 this year, and his save percentage went from .903 to .927.
In the postseason he has only gotten better, but he shakes off any praise.
“The goalies have to face lots of shots. That’s your job – stop the puck. It doesn’t matter how many shots, you have to continue to work, continue to just work hard, keep fighting. We knew it was not going to be an easy series for us.”
DUCHENE GETTING CLOSER
Avalanche fans got an encouraging sign when center Matt Duchene took part in Saturday’s morning skate at Pepsi Center. Although Roy said Duchene will not play in Game 5 the signs are there that he could play in the series, with Game 6 scheduled for Monday in St. Paul and Game 7, if necessary, back in Denver on Wednesday.
Duchene has not played since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee March 29, and the team projected he would be out roughly four weeks. Saturday marks the fourth week and it is apparent Duchene is nearing a return.
That’s a positive development for his teammates, who enjoyed having their leading scorer skating with them.
“In the playoffs you don’t get too many extra boosts," rookie center Nathan MacKinnon said. "Knowing we’ll get him back soon, and he won’t be out the rest of the year, is a boost."
Roy said he will decide before tonight's game whether to play Joey Hishon or Paul Carey on the fourth line. Carey skated in the first three games of the series, and Hishon made his NHL debut Thursday in Game 4.