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Ilya Sorokin & Linus Ullmark: Two Of The NHL’s Best Remain Worlds Apart

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AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Frank Franklin III

Boston, MA– When you’re truly one of the elites at your craft, you rarely cross paths with someone who can look you eye to eye.

However, Thursday night will be one of those rare instances. With the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins meeting at TD Garden, Ilya Sorokin will match up in goal against Linus Ullmark.

“Anytime you get a big-time matchup, it’s probably highlighted a bit more than some other nights,” Brock Nelson said. “Sorokin is in on every save, and I think the other teams are saying the same thing about their guy.”

As much as Sorokin prides himself on his own game, he can’t help but admire the work of his Ullmark.

“It’s beautiful [watching him play],” Sorokin said. “I watch highlights and replays. But it’s not about a future game. I like it just to watch it.”

Only once have Sorokin and Ullmark been pitted against one another in a game before, with the former taking their battle back on Feb. 17, 2022, in a 4-1 Islanders win.

Although, at the time, neither had the reputations they do now. Sorokin was still establishing himself in the league, while Ullmark was known as the guy the Bruins signed to replace Tuukka Rask.

In the time since, Sorokin and Ullmark have ascended to the peak of the NHL’s goalie hierarchy as the two leading vote-getters for last year’s Vezina Trophy.

However, the results weren’t all that close. Ullmark won in a landslide with 22 first-place votes to Sorokin’s three.

Much of that, though, was based on the staggering numbers Ullmark put up behind the best regular season team in the history of the NHL. As Boston ran to an astounding 135 points, Ullmark won 40 of his 49 starts while posting a league-best .938 save percentage and 1.89 GAA.

“He’s got a great team in front of him that limits the chances against him,” Anders Lee said. “When he does see them, he’s making the saves. It’s a combination of great goaltending and a good team.”

As for Sorokin, he started 62 games for the Islanders in 2022-23, keeping them afloat and carrying them into the postseason.

I think Ullmark had a great year last year, but I don’t think anyone is better than Sorokin,” Mathew Barzal told NYI Hockey Now. “Sometimes, it’s about numbers, but it’s also about the eye test. Sorokin kept us in every single game. We don’t make the playoffs without him. I thought he should’ve been a top three Hart vote [recipient]. He was that important for us.”

This season, it hasn’t been much different.

Ullmark and the Bruins are pacing the Eastern Conference despite losing major pieces during the offseason. Meanwhile, the Islanders have brought back much of the same roster in front of Sorokin and are getting much of the same results as they’ve lost three of their last four games after holding leads in each of them heading into tonight.

“One thing that we have to do more as a team is score goals and finish,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “We can’t pass up opportunities. We got to make sure we shoot, and we got to make sure we hit the net.” 

The Islanders will certainly need to do just that against the reigning Vezina winner tonight. Even if they don’t, they’ll lean on Sorokin just as always.

The longer they do so, the longer they’ll hold him back.

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