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Semyon Varlamov named NHL’s first star as he pulls Avalanche back in playoff race

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche were in a concerning free-fall as the trade deadline approached, plummeting from the top of the Central Division standings to a neck-in-neck race with the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Vancouver Canucks just outside the Wild Card spots. The St. Louis Blues got hot just as the Avalanche got cold, and an excellent Jordan Binnington in St. Louis made for a stark contrast with Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer’s inability to make a save as the Avalanche found themselves on the outside looking in.

When the Avalanche needed him most, though, Varlamov stepped up and brought his old game form back. So with three straight wins, a .964 SV%, and his first shutout since December 2nd, he was good enough to earn the NHL’s First Star of the Week as he pushed the Avalanche back into contention.

Varlamov has been the better of Colorado’s two goaltenders this year, putting up a .911 save percentage in all situations through 41 games so far on the year.

He’s had a bit of an up and down season, though, putting up just two games with better than a .900 save percentage in January (he played in six games) and dropping seven of the eight games he’d appeared in prior to this past week.

When the team needed him most, though, he’s shone. The Russian-born goaltender shut out the Vegas Golden Knights on February 18th, stopping 40 shots, then allowed just one goal in a win over Winnipeg on the 20th and allowing only three on 44 shots to defeat Chicago on the 22nd.

With his trio of wins, the Avalanche now have a four-game win streak, putting them just one point out of the second Western Conference Wild Card spot and pulling them two points ahead of Arizona, four ahead of Chicago, and five ahead of Vancouver. They’ll have a tough time passing Dallas, St. Louis, or Minnesota, but they’re closer to a playoff berth than they have been in the last few weeks — and Varlamov has been a key part of that.

The Avalanche will next play on Monday evening, facing off against the Florida Panthers with the newly-acquired Derrick Brassard.