October 6, 2017 / 2:29 AM / 9 months ago

Varlamov stops 37 as Avs top Rangers at MSG

Varlamov stops 37 as Avs top Rangers at MSG

NEW YORK — The 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche had the worst NHL season in nearly 20 years, winning only 22 games and totaling 48 points. The team made only a few tweaks in the offseason, so there wasn’t much hope for a turnaround.

At least for one night, the Avalanche looked like a transformed squad.

Semyon Varlamov was the reason for most of that, as he stopped 37 shots in the Avalanche’s 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night in the first game for both teams this season.

The goaltender missed most of last season after hip surgery but returned with a flourish, allowing only two power-play goals to Mika Zibanejad in the first period.

Defenseman Tyson Barrie scored what proved to be the winner with 2:10 remaining in the second period and Varlamov turned aside all 25 shots he faced during the final 40 minutes.

“I’m so happy,” Barrie said when asked about seeing a sharp Varlamov in his first game since December 2016. “I know last year was tough for all of us. He had the surgeries and he’s a really passionate guy, so for him to come back and play like that tonight ... he’s been unbelievable in every preseason game too. He reminds me of the Varly from three years ago.”

It was three years ago when Varlamov anchored an Avalanche playoff team and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting with a career best .927 save percentage.

If the Avalanche continue to be as porous as they were Thursday night — coach Jared Bednar said after the game that he didn’t want to rely on his goaltender to that degree every night — Varlamov may need to match or exceed that number.

“I mean, that’s my job,” Varlamov said. “I just tried to keep my team in the game.”

Matt Duchene and Mikko Rantanen put the Avalanche ahead 2-0 less than 11 minutes into the game, but the penalty-filled affair allowed the Rangers to tie it with the man-advantage before the period expired. There were 14 minor penalties as officials look to crack down on slashing and interference infractions this season.

“You have to keep your sticks on the ice,” Bednar said. “That’s the one thing. I agreed with every penalty we got.”

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals on 25 shots, a rough debut coming off his worst season since he entered the league in 2005-06.

“Of course, we want to start the season the right way, starting with a win,” Lundqvist said. “I think we did a lot of good things — things that we should bring for the next game and really build on. The result was not what we were looking for, but a lot of good things to build on.”

The Rangers controlled the game territorially; they had 69 shots compared with 44 for the Avalanche, but they could not solve Varlamov at even strength.

“I thought Varlamov made some key saves down the stretch,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had an assist in his first game with the Rangers after signing a free-agent contract with the team during the offseason. “Other plays and areas of the game, we need to tighten up and we need to be a little bit more patient. We let up a lot of odd-man rushes tonight.”

The Rangers threatened to tie the score in the final minutes with Lundqvist on the bench for an extra attacker, but Varlamov did not face a dangerous chance in the final 1:40.

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog scored into an empty net with 2.6 seconds remaining to seal the victory that reminded even Varlamov of better days in the past.

“I played like I did a couple years ago,” Varlamov said. “I definitely felt good out there. I felt very confident.”

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said, “Credit the goalie. He was huge for them.”

NOTES: The Avalanche scratches included C Carl Soderberg, C Joe Colborne and D Nikita Zadorov. The trio is healthy and account for $9.5 million against the team’s salary cap this year. ... The Avalanche were without D Sergei Boikov (shoulder) and LW A.J. Greer (concussion). ... Rangers rookie C Filip Chytil became the first 18-year-old to play for a team coached by Alain Vigneault. ... The Rangers scratched D Nick Holden and D Steven Kampfer. ... Rangers RW Jesper Fast (hip) is week to week.

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