It shouldn’t have been a surprise, after the way Game 3 went for the Islanders and Semyon Varlamov, to see Ilya Sorokin leading the Islanders onto the ice for warmups before Game 4 Saturday at the Nassau Coliseum.
And when Sorokin calmly and securely handled the first shot of the game from Pittsburgh’s Kasperi Kapanen a minute in, it was pretty evident this game would play out a little differently than Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, when Varlamov allowed questionable goals early in the first period and the Isles went on to lose both.
The Islanders won this one, 4-1, to even the best-of-seven series, 2-2, and Sorokin, who had started Game 1, which the Islanders won, allowed no soft goals and no goals at all until the final minutes of the game when the victory was already secured.
"We have confidence in him, but I think the whole bench said, ‘Hey, he’s dialed in, so we’ve got to be dialed in too,’’’ Barry Trotz said of the first save by Sorokin. "So, yeah, no question, it was nice to play with a lead for once in this series. We haven’t done a whole lot, so it was real key for us.’’
Not that Sorokin had to be spectacular. He made 29 saves, but other than the first one on Kapanen, he wasn’t really tested until the final three minutes or so, when the Isles were ahead by four goals.
The 25-year-old may be an NHL rookie, but he has proven himself in playoff hockey before, having won the Gagarin Cup, the championship of Russia’s KHL, in 2019. He was the playoff MVP that year, and he said Saturday that he didn’t see much difference playing in the NHL playoffs, as opposed to the KHL playoffs.
"Every playoff game, you should have high level concentration, high level focus, and be ready 100%,’’ said Sorokin, who learned on Friday that he would get the starting nod. "It’s every league playoff game I play, junior or KHL or NHL.’’
The 6,800 fans at the Coliseum Saturday chanted "Ilya, Ilya,’’ and gave him a nice hand after Zach Aston-Reese’s short-handed deflection goal spoiled his shutout bid with 2:35 remaining. The crowd was the largest Sorokin has played in front of this season.
"Finally, we see fans in the game,’’ he said. "It’s very exciting because we play for the fans, and when you see [them] and you hear how loud it is, you feel energy. And… I just enjoyed the game, and enjoyed the moment.’’