Islanders score huge win over Toronto as Ilya Sorokin again comes up big
Ilya Sorokin is easily the Islanders’ most valuable player, the goalie again showing that with another highlight-reel paddle save in Tuesday night’s 7-2 win over the Maple Leafs at UBS Arena.
But it’s a team sport and the Islanders need contributions from up and down the lineup to maintain their hold on a playoff spot. Especially if top-six center Brock Nelson, who may have suffered a head injury, joins elite playmaker Mathew Barzal in missing games.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Anders Lee said of Sorokin smacking away defenseman Erik Gustafsson’s look at a wide-open net from the left at 12:37 of the first period and the Islanders already trailing by one. “It woke us up on the bench. I think that turned the tide a little bit there. We needed that.”
Sorokin made 23 saves but, playing one forward short, the Islanders (37-27-8) won their third straight with two goals from Cal Clutterbuck and one apiece from Hudson Fasching, Simon Holmstrom, Zach Parise, Lee and defenseman Noah Dobson.
It was an impressive, crucial win following a 2-1-0 California swing.
“It didn’t hurt that it was Toronto,” coach Lane Lambert said. “It was a big game for us and it didn’t hurt that we’re in a huge playoff battle.”
The Islanders (37-27-8) now have a three-point lead over the Panthers, who have played one fewer game, for the Eastern Conference’s first-wild card spot. The idle Penguins are four points back and have played two fewer games.”
“It was a great effort,” said Dobson, who made it 6-2 with a rink-length empty-netter at 13:56 of the third period. “Obviously losing, Brock, he’s a big part of our team. Up front, everyone logged a little more minutes. Everyone stepped up. It was nice to see guys like Fasch, Clutter, Zach, those guys get rewarded. They play hard every night.”
Clutterbuck’s second goal, on a breakaway at 4:13 of the third period, regained a 4-2 lead for the Islanders just 44 seconds after Mitch Marner’s one-timer from the slot had brought the Maple Leafs (42-19-9) within one. Holmstrom, with his first goal in 10 games, made it 5-2 at 10:00 and Lee closed the scoring at 16:46.
Sorokin continued his strong play with a blocker save on Auston Matthews’ slap shot from the slot at 2:37 of the second period. By then, the Islanders had tied it at 1-1 while skating four-on-four with defenseman Scott Mayfield finding Parise open at the far post for his 19th goal 28 seconds into the second period.
Sorokin also denied David Kampf’s shorthanded breakaway at 5:26 of the second period before Fasching, with his fourth goal in seven games, beat Ilya Samsonov (22 saves) from the left circle to make it 2-1 at 13:50.
Sorokin added to his impressive collection of paddle saves – he stopped the Penguins’ Kris Letang earlier this season and the Rangers’ Artemi Panarin last season — when he reached back to deny Gustafsson.
“There was traffic,” Sorokin said. “I saw a player back and I saw him move his body and I think he would shoot. But, at the last moment, I saw him pass. I had one chance. It was just luck.”
Clutterbuck, who had not scored a goal since Jan. 5 — he missed 20 games with an upper-body injury from Jan. 21-March 9 — made it 3-1 at 17:26 of the second period as he deflected defenseman Ryan Pulock’s blast.
Nelson exited at 18:48 of the first period after Noel Acciari ran him into the right corner boards. He grabbed his helmet with both hands and was led to the Islanders’ room. Matt Martin fought Acciari late in the third period, though let up on him when it was clear Acciari wasn't up for the fight.