Semyon Varlamov skated Friday and practiced Saturday, so he probably could have started Game 1 of the Islanders’ first-round playoff series against the Penguins on Sunday.
But Islanders coach Barry Trotz decided it made more sense to play Ilya Sorokin.
"We had to make a decision [Saturday] night,’’ Trotz said. "And we just thought long-term . . . that’s one thing that we think we have is two capable goalies. And if we want to have any success, we’re going to need both of them. And so we said . . . ‘Let’s sort of do what’s right. Let’s not risk anything here. Be cautious. We’ll give [Varlamov] another day of practice and then he’ll be 100%.’ ’’
The safe call turned out to be the right call for Trotz. Sorokin, a 25-year-old rookie, was brilliant, making 39 saves to help the Islanders beat the Penguins, 4-3, in overtime in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. Kyle Palmieri scored two goals, the second at 16:30 of overtime.
Palmieri would not have had the chance to be the hero if Sorokin had not dropped to his knees and stopped an attempt by Jeff Carter from the low slot at 14:37 of OT.
Trotz was particularly impressed with the goaltender’s work on the three power plays the Penguins had, too.
"He made a couple of huge saves — he made a toe save on Sid [Crosby] on the power play, the one-timer, and I thought he was really sharp on a power play late in the second period,’’ Trotz said. "We had to get through that [in a 2-1] game. If we don’t kill that power play off, I think we’re probably not sitting here as winning the first game.’’
"He made the saves,’’ Palmieri said. "He kept us in it. During the couple penalty kills we had, our PK did a great job of making sure they didn’t get too much, and Soroki, he competes . . . For a goalie to give us a chance to win on the road in Game 1, that’s all you could ask for. He played a great game.’’
It was his first Stanley Cup playoff game, but Sorokin, who went 13-6-3 with a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season, was no untested rookie. He played eight seasons in the KHL and had won the Gagarin Cup there in 2019 (he was playoff MVP).
"He is as level-headed a goaltender as you’re going to meet. but at the same time, [he’s had] those experiences of winning in the KHL, which is an extremely good league,’’ Trotz said. "He’s always had success and he’s a confident guy.
"He had a smile when I told him he was going to start. And he said, ‘Oh, no problem, Coach. I’ll be good tomorrow.’ ’’
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.