Varlamov has thrived in MacKinnon’s shadow

Nathan MacKinnon is currently having his way with the NHL and could be on his way to winning the Hart Trophy. Although MacKinnon is getting all the spotlight — and deservingly so — goaltender Semyon Varlamov has quietly been a huge part of the Avalanche’s success over the past month of play.

After Sunday’s 5-1 home victory over the Detroit Red Wings, coach Jared Bednar spoke about the Avalanche’s recent success. “We got a little sloppy in the second period, but Varly saved us… our best guys were Varly [and] the MacKinnon line; they were our best players and that’s what you need this time of the year.”

The Avalanche have had a tremendous bounce-back season after a torturous 2016-17 campaign where they finished last in the league. With Jonathan Bernier out with a concussion, Varlamov has carried a heavy load in between the pipes; starting 15 of the last 17 games — but he’s played in all 17, since in the other two games, Bernier left with injury.

Varlamov was not just one of the best players for the Avalanche in Sunday’s match, but has been one of the best players in the league over the last 17 games. Since February 14th, the Avalanche have a 9-4-4 record and have racked up 22 points to put them in the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference and just three points back of third place in the Central Division. Through 17 games, Varlamov has a 2.41 goals-against average and has not allowed a third-period goal in his last seven.

In the most crucial time of the year, where closing out games and gathering every point possible is key, the Avalanche know they can rely on Varlamov to help them finish games and come out on top — and they’ll need his run of quality play to continue. With 10 games remaining in the season, the Avalanche have their work cut out for them; they’ll face seven teams currently in a playoff position.

Five of their final 10 games are on the road. The Avalanche have struggled away from the Pepsi Center, sporting only a 14-16-6 road record. If the Avalanche want to make the playoffs, they’ll need to keep picking up points on the road to complement their outstanding 25-9-2 record at home.

The Avalanche stand on the cusp of the playoffs, and with MacKinnon scoring at will, Varlamov standing on his head, and the return of Erik Johnson to health, the Avs have all the pieces in place to succeed in the final stretch of the season.