Head coach Barry Trotz made one adjustment to his lineup in the Islanders’ dominant Game 4 win, and it was in goal.
Ilya Sorokin earned the starting nod on Saturday, his second of the series, after No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov put forth two rocky performances in the Isles’ losses in Game 2 and 3. The rookie netminder shined, turning aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced. He didn’t let in a goal until 17:25 of the third, after the Islanders had already built a comfortable four-goal lead.
The Islanders’ two wins in this first-round series against the Penguins have come with Sorokin in net.
“Every playoff game should have high-level concentration, high level of focus and be ready on 100 percent,” Sorokin said after the win, which evened the series 2-2. “It’s every league playoff game I play, junior or KHL or NHL, and so on.”
Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen tested Sorokin early after jumping out on a partial breakaway, but the rookie made a pad save at the top of the crease. He came up big again at the end of the period, turning aside a shot from Jared McCann.
But Sorokin’s most impressive save of the night came on Penguins star Sidney Crosby in the second period. Crosby carried the puck across the crease, and Sorokin managed to track it the whole way, refusing to give an opening no matter how long the Pittsburgh star lingered.
“I think the big characteristic of Ilya is, and even shooting him on practice, is his quickness,” said Jordan Eberle, who recorded his first goal of the series in the win. “I mean, laterally, side to side, some of the saves he makes are pretty amazing. It’s impressive to see him, obviously, in his first playoff run. I know he’s been through it in Russia. But to have poise and just his confidence back there and just his calmness, he makes big saves for us, and he’s done it all year.”
The Islanders have been looking for Mathew Barzal to come alive this series, and though he’s progressed from game to game, the team’s top-line center opted for the pass instead of the shot a few more times than usual on Saturday.
Asked if he felt Barzal should be a bit more aggressive on the net, Trotz said “a little bit” but that he was pleased with the 23-year-old center’s contributions overall.
“I looked down at the sheet, and I saw that Matt had six attempts,” the coach said. “So he’s shooting the puck. I just think when he has the opportunity if he gets it he’s so creative at times that sometimes that creativity, he’s looking, doesn’t shoot it and then someone has to jump into a hole and he’s looking for that. You’re one stick away or one turnover away from going the other way.
“I thought he played a real strong game. I liked his compete, he was dangerous, I liked his puck management, his defensive play. He was firm in all those battles and he wasn’t drifting, he was staying under the puck.”