Man, that felt good!
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had a tough decision to make in net for his team’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Would he roll with the young gun, Ilya Sorokin, or the veteran, Semyon Varlamov.
Sorokin got the call in Game One of the series and was terrific; he stopped 39 of 42 in the win. But Trotz went to Varlamov for Games Two and Three. The Isles lost both games with Varlamov in net and found themselves training 2-1 in the series.
That meant Saturday’s matinee could have been the last game ever in the Nassau Coliseum (if the Isles lost Game Four and then Game Five in Pittsburgh).
So who showed up to support the boys? The J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! You might notice the new quarterback in town showing off a golden tan in the middle of the pic.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 22, 2021
When the Isles took the ice, it was Sorokin back between the pipes.
And for that, we say:
It took less than five minutes for this one to get chippy. Cal Clutterbuck and Evgeni Malkin shared recipes for flapjacks at 4:07 into the first period and each sat for two minutes. Malkin returned to the ice only momentarily; he was called for high sticking Kyle Palmieri 100 seconds after leaving the box.
Neither side scored, but it was obvious this game was going to be another physical battle.
It took eight minutes into the second period for someone to get on the board, and it was Josh Bailey giving the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Even though Pittsburgh was generating more shots on net, the Islanders kept grinding. The second goal of the game is always big. Thankfully, on Saturday it came off the stick of Ryan Pulock.
At the end of 40 minutes, the Islanders were getting out-shot 20-17 but Sorokin was perfect and the offense had given them a two-goal lead heading to the third period.
Two-goal leads aren’t safe and Trotz undoubtedly told his team to keep putting physical pressure on the Pens. The Islanders were having a terrific day in the faceoff circle and were forcing the Penguins to take frustration penalties.
When Scott Mayfield went to the box four minutes into the third, Isles fans held their breath. The last thing they needed was to open the door an inch for the Penguins to get on the board.
But that frustration born in the physical play of the Islanders showed up. Jason Zucker killed his team’s penalty after 30 seconds when he went to the box for tripping. Kris Letang joined him in the box 41 seconds later, and what was once a 5-on-4 power play for the Penguins became a 4-on-3 power play for the Islanders.
And they cashed in. Not once, but twice.
Oliver Wahlstrom scored the first power play goal for the Islanders to extend the lead to three.
Jordan Eberle made it a four-goal lead 24 seconds later.
From there, the Islanders kept putting pressure on the Penguins.
Unfortunately, with 2:35 left in regulation Zach Aston-Reese ended Sorokin’s shutout bid. But the Islanders had built enough of a lead that it was too late for the Penguins to rally.
When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard showed a 4-1 Islanders victory.
Player of the Game
This might feel like an easy decision, but it isn’t. The Islanders combined to completely shut down Sidney Crosby. Crosby won only six of 18 faceoffs and was held without a point again. And the Islanders had Wahlstrom, Pulock and Mat Barzal with multi-point games offensively.
But we’re going with Sorokin for the leading the bounce-back win to even the series. The Islanders needed a stopper and Sorokin gave them precisely that, stopping 29 of 30 in the win.