Islanders’ Sorokin Fuels Series Lead

The New York Islanders were able to win Game 5 in double overtime with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to give them a 3-2 series lead and only one victory away from advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Josh Bailey scored the game-winning goal, the victory for the team was on the back of Ilya Sorokin, who saved 48 shots and only surrendered two goals in the recent win. Sorokin has been in the net for all three Islanders’ victories in the First Round, but his performances, in particular, give fans more hope than only defeating the top seed in the East Division in the Penguins.

Sorokin Is Unfazed by the Spotlight

The recent game might have been the most significant of the series thus far for both teams, with both hoping to gain the crucial 3-2 lead in this hard-fought series. With the Islanders on the road against one of the best offenses in the game that possesses arguably the best top line in the NHL (Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel have all scored 20 goals or more this season), the 25-year-old Sorokin stepped up and was unfazed by the pressure. There were plenty of instances where the young goalie could have fallen apart in the game, with the Penguins continuing to bombard shots on the net and navigate what has been a great Islanders’ defense for multiple scoring chances. The recent game was only a testament to a goalie that might be young, but with each start, continues to improve and eliminate even the best offenses.

Ilya Sorokin New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Game 5 wasn’t the only instance of Sorokin being unfazed and unbothered when other young goaltenders might start to falter. The Islanders have seen instances where their opponent looked poised to control the game and start to find the back of the net as they were receiving open shots and easy goal-scoring opportunities. Sorokin would allow one goal but settled down afterward and not only kept the team in the game but eliminated the Penguins’ offense entirely. Game 1 saw the Penguins steal the momentum with consecutive goals to take a 2-1 lead in the second period, breaking through the defense with speed and effective movement through the neutral zone, yet were unable to pull away as the strong goaltending continued for the rest of the game. Similarly, Game 4 saw the opponent bombard the young goalie early and often, but after the initial wave of shots, it was clear that the game was in control, evening the series at the time.

Even the Goals Surrendered Can’t Be Blamed on Sorokin

In the recent game, Sorokin allowed a pair of goals in what had to be the only two errors of the night for him. While there is the argument for the goals to be pinned on the young goaltender, some poor defense from a unit that has shown weaknesses throughout the playoff series, allowing three goals or more in three of the five games thus far, deserves some of the blame. In the recent game, the Islanders’ defense allowed easy shots on the net in the defensive zone while also committing costly turnovers to an offense that often capitalizes on mistakes. Considering how Sorokin was able to save 48 of the 50 shots while the opponent constantly found great opportunities to score, allowing only two goals have to be regarded as one of the greater accomplishments of the season for the 25-year-old goaltender.

Ilya Sorokin New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin has given the Islanders life with many great saves, especially when opponents try to slide the puck past him while he’s in the butterfly technique. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like Semyon Varlamov, Sorokin is facing an offense that matches up well against the Islanders’ defense and has forced the goaltending to win these games, giving fans an even greater appreciation for the goaltending duo that might be the best in the NHL. Throughout the series, the Penguins have managed to find space from the point or through the neutral zone with their fast pace and excellent puck movement. Sorokin has limited the opponent’s speed and odd-man rushes in all three starts, only allowing six goals thus far. The few pucks that get past the 25-year-old goaltender require great skill from the opponent, and oftentimes, a top-shelf shot considering how well the young goaltender is playing in the butterfly technique and lower-half shots.

Historically, a Young Goaltender Can Lead a Team to a Stanley Cup Run

In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were able to make a run to the Stanley Cup and win it as a result of the great play of the young goaltender Jordan Binnington, who was only 25 years old at the time. In fact, three of the previous five Stanley Cup champions were led by a goaltender 25 years old or younger, as they were able to step up for the stretch of games.

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Sorokin might not be the best option for the Islanders or even the starter, considering how Varlamov played over the course of the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore the .951 save percentage and that the younger goaltender has been playing better in the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far. It’s easy to forget that the teams that hoist the Cup don’t only have the best goaltender but often times will have a goaltender with a hot hand that the team can rely on night after night.

The Implication for Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov is a good enough goaltender that can start in the net on any given night and normally would be the starter. For now, head coach Barry Trotz must roll with Sorokin, who has been the better goaltender, allowing a 1.66 goals against average in the first round, according to Hockey Reference, as well as helping steal the momentum of the series with consecutive victories. Trotz split the starts between his two goaltenders, Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and rotated the Islanders’ goaltenders this season as well to avoid overworking them. However, based on the recent performances, it’s hard seeing the young Sorokin losing the starting job anytime soon.