In the biggest game of his NHL career, Ilya Sorokin gave the New York Islanders just what the doctor ordered as he helped shut down the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a crucial 4-1 win in Game 4.
The first-year NHLer flourished in goal as he denied 29 of 30 shots that came his way, including some massive stops against Pittsburgh’s best players. Sorokin was even 2:35 away from registering his first career playoff shutout, but regardless he got his team the win and now the series is tied at 2-2 heading back to Pittsburgh.
“I just enjoy the game and the moment,” said Sorokin, following his first home-ice appearance in front of a packed Nassau Coliseum crowd.
The 25-year old Russian netminder did not seem phased by the atmosphere or the moment the entire night. He was calm, compact, and, more importantly, confident right from the get-go.
What had plagued the Islanders over the last two games were bad starts, especially from Semyon Varlamov. Sorokin made those key saves early on Saturday, which allowed the Islanders to find their game rather than have to play from behind.
That made all the difference.
In the first minute, Penguins forward Kaspari Kapanen was able to get to the front of the net, but Ilya Sorokin read the play and was able to make a rather important stop. That was the save the Islanders failed to get at starts of Game 2 and Game 3 and it allowed the Islanders to play their game, instead of having to fight back against Pittsburgh’s.
“Ilya, when he was called upon, he looked really sharp in net,” said Trotz following the win. “It was a shame we gave up a goal there.”
The reason for Sorokin’s success was simple. He positioned himself correctly on seemingly every shot that came his way. When the shot came, thanks to the Islanders’ resilient effort to clear the slot, Sorokin was able to either eat the puck into his chest or direct the puck into the corners without having to fight through traffic.
There were very few highlight-reel saves needed from Sorokin today. While fans may love to see that style of goaltending, that illustrates a lack of control. Saves that other goaltenders may have to work hard to make, post to post, things of that nature, Sorokin did it with ease.
His athletic ability allowed him to be quick, and when he was anticipating at that level getting one past him is a tough task.
“The biggest characteristic with Ilya, and even shooting on him in practice, is his quickness,” Jordan Eberle said. “Laterally, side to side, some of the saves he makes are pretty amazing. To have poise and just his confidence back there, and just his calmness. He made big saves for us, and he has done that all year.”
Sorokin’s save on Sidney Crosby in the early part of the second period is exactly what Eberle had discussed.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 22, 2021
When a netminder is able to establish his positioning the way Sorokin did, those types of saves like we see above don’t have to happen often. Some may call that boring, but that is really efficiency and effectiveness on display.
Sorokin’s confidence was contagious. the defense in front of him appeared much more confident in its own right. Most of Pittsburgh’s shots came from the outside, with very few high danger chances being allowed.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 22, 2021
“Every playoff game you should have a high level of consideration, a high level of focus, and be ready to give one-hundred percent, ” Sorokin said when asked about the difference between the NHL playoffs and the KHL playoffs.
“It’s every league playoff. Whether I play junior, KHL, or NHL, it’s one.”
Sorokin is now 2-0 in the playoffs, with a 1.76 goals GAA and a .948 SV%. While his first start in Game 1 saw him come up large with key saves, we saw the whole package in Game 4.
We witnessed the Ilya Sorokin that everyone had been waiting to see in the playoffs. A netminder that can be the difference-maker in the biggest of games under the largest spotlight. It felt like a coming-out party, even after his strong play during the regular season.
The biggest question mark for the Islanders coming into Game 4 against Pittsburgh was goaltending. After seeing Semyon Varlamov struggled in Game 2 and 3, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had to decide if it was best to stick with the veteran or lean on his rookie netminder.
We know what he did and how successful it was.
When the puck drops for Game 5 on Monday, in what now has become a best of three series, Trotz does not have much of a decision to make after the performance by Sorokin.
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