The New York Islanders have often talked about how much faith they have in both their goaltenders. On Sunday they backed that up by starting rookie Ilya Sorokin in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And boy did it pay off.
Ilya Sorokin made 39 saves for the Islanders in their 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, including a number of massive saves through the course of the game to keep Pittsburgh at bay. In the first period, Sorokin was able to get his skate blade on a deflection attempt by Sidney Crosby in the waning seconds of a power play.
It was a pair of saves by Sorokin in the opening minutes of the second period that showed once again that Sorokin was ready for the big stage. First, he denied a deflection by Evan Rodrigues and then Sorokin was able to slide over and make the sprawled out save on Teddy Blueger’s wraparound attempt.
Sorokin continued his outstanding play in overtime before Palmieri could play hero and secure the Islanders the series-opening win. And in addition to the big stop on Crosby during a penalty kill, Sorokin was strong turning away chances on Pittsburgh’s other two man-advantage opportunities.
“I was really impressed (with Sorokin),” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Obviously he made a couple of huge saves. He made a toe save on Sid on the power play the one time. I thought he was really sharp on a power play late in the second period. We had to get through that 2-1 game. If we don’t kill that power off I think we’re probably not sitting here as winning the first game.
“That would have been a tough hill to climb against a very good hockey team.”
Ilya Sorokin: What a save on Crosby pic.twitter.com/Ee5rPfLEzt
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 16, 2021
Sorokin’s start came as a surprise on Sunday. Semyon Varlamov had practiced the two previous days on Long Island and it seemed all but certain that he would be good to go for Game 1. The decision to start Sorokin was made Saturday night, according to Trotz, and Varlamov will skate in the Islanders’ optional practice on Monday in Pittsburgh.
The decision to give the rookie a chance was made out of a desire to make sure Varlamov was healthy for the long haul. Trotz expects Varlamov to be 100 percent by Game 2.
If there was any concern that Ilya Sorokin wouldn’t be able to handle the playoff spotlight, he seemed to put that to bed on Sunday afternoon. “He had a smile on his face when I told him he was going to start and he said, ‘no problem coach I’ll be good tomorrow,'” Trotz said.
Part of what has made Sorokin so successful this year had been his calm demeanor regardless of the circumstances. The rookie displayed that in Game 1.
“If you look at the two trade deadline acquisitions, last year Pageau, this year Palmieri, they're veteran guys that are proven. When it comes to playoff hockey, in big moments you rely on their experience. Their character is exceptional.”
Trotz ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/yq1AyQHgva
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 16, 2021
“He was super calm, even before the game,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “He’s a goalie with a lot of confidence and he’s super calm.”
That was a trait that Trotz also noted.
“He’s as level-headed a goaltender as you’re going to meet,” Trotz said. “But at the same time those experiences of winning in the KHL, which is an extremely good league. He’s always had success, he’s a confident guy.”