The Future Is Now for the Islanders and Ilya Sorokin. I hate to say I told you this day was coming, but I did. Prior to the start of the season, I wrote the following in my season preview:
And speaking of breakouts, would anybody be surprised if young goalie stud, Ilya Sorokin snatches away the starting netminder job from the incumbent starter, Semyon Varlamov, before the playoffs begin?
Trotz may be going with Varlamov to start the season, but that doesn’t mean it’s his job forever.
Okay, I’ll concede I predicted Sorokin would claim the starter’s job before the playoffs, so I’m a little off, but you get the point. Sorokin is the future in net for the Nassaumen. That doesn’t mean Semyon Varlamov is finished, washed up, etc. It’s just the opposite, he’s still at the top of his game. But that $5M cap hit for each of the next two years will be prohibitive to the Islanders going forward; especially seeing as Sorokin is a RFA after these playoffs conclude and needs a new deal, which will also come with a raise.
So, Monday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, when Sorokin led the Islanders to a 3-2 double-overtime victory over the Penguins that gave the Islanders a 3-2 series lead, it almost felt like a passing of the torch moment. In fact, forget the word, “led,” Sorokin straight up stole the game for the Isles and staked his claim to the net for the rest of this series and the foreseeable future. The young Russian netminder has exceeded expectations and is now 3-0 in his three playoff starts this series.
What that all means for Varlamov remains to be seen, but what matters right now is that the Islanders are one win away from advancing to the next round and they have a chance to do it at home.
Early in the first period, with the Penguins playing desperate and on their toes, Sorokin repeatedly bailed out his Isles teammates with save after save; including a point-blank one on Bryan Rust after Scott Mayfield turned the puck over directly in front of the net.
Unfortunately for Sorokin, his teammates were unable to match his level of play and Josh Bailey was called for slashing Kasperi Kapanen at the 7:47 mark of the opening period. Then, 33-seconds into the Penguins power-play, the Isles were unable to so much as touch the puck for a clearing chance and after several passes, Evgeni Malkin sent a wrist-shot over Sorokin’s stick side shoulder for the 1-0 Pittsburgh lead.
Things did not improve for the Nassaumen after Malkin scored as the Penguins kept up the attack and the Islanders continued to turn the puck over like it was going out of style. The breakouts were missing. The passing off the mark and the defending out of sync. So it was critical for Sorokin to be at his best and he was; which allowed the Boys from Long Island to remain within 1-0 late in the first period.
And thanks to Sorokin’s efforts, with the first period in its final minute, Josh Bailey was able to find Anthony Beauvillier streaking up the ice. Beauvillier entered the Penguins’ zone with speed, turned Jake Guentzel inside-out as Pittsburgh was caught with several players out of position and then fired the puck past Tristan Jarry’s blocker-side for the game-tying score. 1-1.
With the momentum of the game up for grabs at the start of the second period, Pittsburgh came out and again forced Sorokin into some nifty saves; including a two-on-one against Brandon Tanev that saw Sorokin sprawl out to stop the puck.
Undeterred, the Penguins seized momentum by killing off an Evgeni Malkin hooking penalty and even held the Islanders without a shot on goal. Then, moments after returning to five-on-five play, Sidney Crosby passed the puck to Bryan Rust, who fired a long-range one-timer that caught Sorokin too deep in his net and gave the Penguins the 2-1 lead at 7:37 of the second period.
By the time the second period came to an end, the Isles were lucky to only be down 2-1 as they were outshot 20-4 in the period and were constantly under pressure. Ilya Sorokin, who stood on his head for the second straight period, was the only reason the Islanders were still within a goal heading into the third period.
The third period started much the same way as the first two in that the Islanders were held without a single shot attempt through the first 8:50 of the period and the Penguins continued to apply pressure and forced Sorokin to make critical saves.
Of course, just to show you the wackiness that is playoff hockey, when the Isles got their first shot attempt at 8:50 of the third, they scored the game-tying goal. A nice forecheck behind the Penguins’ net led to Leo Komarov getting the puck over to Jordan Eberle, who initially mishandled the puck and then fired the puck past a diving Jarry for the tying-goal.
Eberle’s goal did not initially give the Isles new life as Sorokin was still forced to make several impressive saves to hold the score at 2-2. Then, moments later, Mike Matheson, clotheslined Oliver Wahlstrom, who was helped off the ice with what looked like a right leg injury.
The replay looked pretty bad (Wahlstrom did not return) and the fact the Isles did not earn a power-play from it was befuddling, but we all know the rulebook is selectively applied so carry on. Luckily, Frederick Gaudreau decided to trip up Brock Nelson with just 5:57 to go in regulation, which gave the Islanders a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Unfortunately, like it has for most of the season and post-season, the Isles power-play did not click and generated nothing in the way of quality offensive chances as the Penguins killed off the penalty.
The last couple of minutes dripped off the clock with a couple of chances to score — for both teams — going unanswered and then came the horn and overtime for the second time this series with the game tied at 2-2.
Overtime began with the Islanders finding that extra gear they’d been missing throughout regulation as they were able to match Pittsburgh chance for chance during the extra period. Of course, Ilya Sorokin still starred in overtime as he made several more highlight saves to hold up his end of the bargain.
Thanks to those saves (and the others throughout the game) Sorokin was able to establish a new Islanders rookie goaltender record for single-game playoff saves. And they needed every single one as Sorokin’s teammates were unable to beat Jarry in the first 20-minutes of overtime, thus necessitating double-overtime.
Double-overtime didn’t last long as Josh Bailey stole the puck on a dump in and beat Jarry 51-seconds into the second extra period to stun the Penguins and give the Islanders the 3-2 victory.
By no means did the Islanders deserve the win. But Ilya Sorokin stole the show and gave them a chance to hang around before finally making their move. Now the Boys from Long Island head home to Nassau Coliseum with a chance to close out the series on Wednesday night.
The Isles went 0-for-2 on the power-play to go to 3-for-14 in the series and 1-for-2 on the penalty-kill to go to 8-for-10 in the series…Ilya Sorokin made his second straight start and third of the series…Sorokin’s 48-saves are an Islanders’ rookie playoff record for a goaltender…Josh Bailey’s double-overtime winner was his second career playoff overtime game-winning goal and his second against the Penguins.
Game 6 — Wednesday May 26th Islanders vs Penguins at Nassau Coliseum at TBD(EST).