It wasn’t the first time Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin squared off against one another, and it won’t be the last time, but New York hockey fans got a glimpse of where the region’s best rivalry is headed.
Sorokin took the first game in the battle of friends and highly touted Russian netminders as his Islanders defeated Shesterkin’s New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime. It may have taken five games before the two would face one another, but the efforts from both goaltenders made it worth the wait.
“Every game with Igor, he is my big friend, and every game is emotional,” Sorokin said. “Big game and it’s very good that Ryan (Pulock) scored in overtime and give good emotion.”
The comment elicited a chuckle out of Pulock, who had been sitting with Ilya Sorokin at the dais during his postgame remarks. It was Pulock’s first goal of the season that gave Sorokin his 11th win in his first NHL season.
— Eyes on Isles (@eyesonislesFS) April 12, 2021
The Islanders starter surrendered two goals on Sunday night against the Rangers, but made the big saves when his team needed them the most. Sorokin finished the night with 24 stops, while Shesterkin had 29.
Sunday was far from the first time that either had gone up against each other in their careers. Before coming to the NHL, the two were rivals in the KHL. Sorokin played for CSKA Moscow and Shesterkin guarded the net for their biggest rival, SKA St. Petersburg.
And of course, the two have been teammates as well, both playing for the Russian national team.
“It’s certainly a big moment because we started playing against each other in junior leagues,” Sorokin said. “And now, we play in the NHL. It’s a big moment for me, and for him, I think.”
The anticipation of seeing the two comrades has remained one of the intriguing aspects this season when the Islanders and Rangers have met. The two sides have gone in different directions since the start of the season, but the hope of seeing Sorokin and Shesterkin has given the rivalry a bit of new blood.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz stayed above the fray ahead of Sunday’s game when asked about the anticipation of the matchup, but Rangers coach David Quinn acknowledged what it means for the longstanding rivalry between New York’s two hockey teams.
“Any time you’ve got two goalies of that magnitude, it certainly spices up the rivalry,” Quinn said. “But I don’t know how much more intense the rivalry can get. We’re just glad we’ve got our guy.”
Trotz simply said that he just cared about winning. And that’s what the Islanders have done when Sorokin is in net this season.
On home ice, Ilya Sorokin has been perfect at 8-0-0 this season. All together he only has three losses in regulation in 15 starts. Sorokin said he’s felt better and better as he’s gotten more playing.
“I knew I just needed to get that one and obviously it came in a big moment. I’m excited about that.”
Pulock & Sorokin ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/yBGUU9b1NV
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 12, 2021
Coincidentally it was against the same Rangers that Sorokin made his debut in a surprise start in the second game of the season. Since then he has only gotten better, leaning on goaltending coaches Piero Greco and Mitch Korn, as well as fellow Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
“You know he was a talented goaltender and there’s a transitional period for all goaltenders,” Trotz said after the win. “One of the best mentors is Varlamov. They’re countrymen, they both have tremendous work ethics and I think they cheer for each other. They’re two of the best guys you’re going to meet.”
The Islanders and Rangers will play again in eight days back at the Coliseum. Will We get Sorokin vs. Shesterkin Round 2?
After Sunday night, there are plenty of people who certainly hope so.