Each Islander lingered longer than usual on the ice to celebrate the latest win, showing their appreciation to Ilya Sorokin and making sure the moment was special for the highly-touted Russian rookie goalie.
Sorokin’s first NHL victory was also his first NHL shutout and the first time his new teammates have given him a lead as the Islanders beat the Sabres, 3-0, on Tuesday night to sweep a two-game series in Buffalo.
"He deserves it," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who extended his goal streak to four games as the Islanders scored twice in the first period. "He’s been very good every game he’s played for us and we haven’t in front of him. He made some huge saves when we needed it. We’re all pumped for him."
Sorokin, who had 43 shutouts in his five All-Star seasons in the KHL, made eight of his 20 saves in the third period. The Islanders (8-4-3) extended their point streak to eight games (5-0-3) and their winning streak to three.
"I felt the guys were really committed to getting off to a good start," coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought they were committed to blocking shots. They did a really good job in front of him. As the game went on, [the Sabres] started getting their legs. He responded by bailing us out. It was nice complement to the guys. They did it at the start and he did it in the end."
The Sabres were much crisper in their second game after resuming their season with Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Islanders after COVID-19 issues shut them down for two weeks. Defenseman Jake McCabe returned to the lineup for the Sabres, who have just Casey Mittelstadt remaining on the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
Sorokin’s shutout was preserved when Trotz successfully challenged Jack Eichel was offside on Victor Olofsson’s apparent power-play goal at 13:01 of the third period.
It was Sorokin’s first start since a 4-3 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Jan. 31.
The Islanders were shut out in his first two starts, including 5-0 to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16 when Sorokin was a last-minute substitute for an injured Semyon Varlamov. Sorokin’s playing time has been limited with Varlamov (7-2-2, 1.89 goals-against average, .931 save percentage, three shutouts) playing so well. Plus, there were no preseason games before this shortened 56-game season to help Sorokin acclimate to North America.
"When you play, you feel better every day," said Sorokin, a third-round pick in 2014. "Of course, I feel better than I did a month ago. I don’t think about pressure. I just think about my game at the moment, what I can do, what I can control. It’s all about what I think before and during the game."
Captain Anders Lee, who scored a buzzer-beating empty-netter, made it 1-0 at 4:43 of the first period as he deflected defenseman Noah Dobson’s feed to the left post. Pageau’s wrister from the left past Carter Hutton (21 saves) made it 2-0 at 11:58 of the first period.
Sorokin stopped Tage Thompson’s in-tight backhander at 10:09 of the first period and Taylor Hall’s backhander as he got free to the crease two minutes later. In the third period, he made a sweeping glove save at 7:50 after Olofsson cut to toward the right post, then slid to his right to deny Sam Reinhart’s backdoor chance at 10:33.
"You definitely see that experience he has playing in the Russian league," Dobson said of the 25-year-old Sorokin. "He’s an older guy. You see that maturity and he’s continuing to get more comfortable each game."