Stepping in after Semyon Varlamov struggled in Games 2 and 3, Ilya Sorokin came 2:35 short of a shutout as he backstopped the New York Islanders to a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4. The win evened the series at 2-2, and gave fans a chance to bring Nassau Coliseum to a raucous boil just like Bossy intended.
First Period: Scoreless, for once
The Islanders finally got a steadier start as they’ve been hoping, getting the jump early, and for the first time this series we had a scoreless first period.
But the Penguins pushed back hard, and Barry Trotz and the rest of the braintrust were rewarded for switching to Sorokin, who made eight saves. Of note was his early stop on a Kasperi Kapanen breakaway, but he was perfectly positioned and calmly covering rebounds throughout. He’d end up with 29 saves on 30 shots for the game.
Our old and easily irritated friend Evgeni Malkin was engaged by Cal Clutterbuck early, taking objection to a check at the Penguins bench. Malkin’s reaction and Clutterbuck’s counterpunch drew coincidental roughing penalties for them at 4:07 into the game. Malkin would later create the only power play of the period with a pretty brutal high-stick on Kyle Palmieri. (He’d add another minor late in the second.)
Second Period: Please shoot the puck, Mathew. See? Like the others do?
The game continued on a knife’s edge for much of the second period. The Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey - Anthony Beauvillier was buzzing, creating most of the Isles chances. Mathew Barzal had a series of great looks both with it scoreless and with a 1-0 lead, but maddeningly passed when he should have shot.
It was the Nelson line that finally broke the seal, with some assistance from Kris Letang, Wise Decision Maker.
It was a basic forecheck, with Nelson winning the puck behind the net and holding Sidney Crosby off in the corner to strip it and find Josh Bailey waiting in the left wing faceoff circle. Bailey’s shot might have been stopped by Tristan Jarry, but he was deep in his net because...Letang shoved Beauvillier right into him. Beauvillier had vacated by the time Bailey shot, so there was no way the Penguins would risk a call for goalie interference.
A look from the glass pic.twitter.com/KeA48qkhxV— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 22, 2021
Sorokin made another huuge save to protect the lead when Crosby approached from the side of the net, carried around the top of the crease, but Sorokin stayed with him across the full arc. He left Crosby nothing.
It felt like the Islanders were ripe to build on their lead — but again, Barzal kept passing off great looks. A good rush by the J-G Pageau line created the opening...Wahlstrom sent a bad angle shot that went out for a juicy rebound. Ryan Pulock stepped into it, and it was going wide, but it took two godly deflections to slip through Jarry and make it 2-0.
Or if you prefer a slo-mo emphasis on the celebration:
A potentially pivotal moment came late in the third when both Malkin and Letang — truly, the smartest pair of Penguins that you ever did see — each chopped at Wahlstrom, with Malkin taking the tripping penalty call.
Third Period: Coliseum Eruptus
The period started calmly, just as we would prescribe when taking a 2-0 lead into the third period. But Sidney Crosby connived a power play — no doubt soothing the wounded Pittsburgh bro media — when he bear hugged Scott Mayfield because he couldn’t get around him. Mayfield ended up with the “holding” penalty on the play, in which he played as standard-as-you-can get defense.
Fortunately, the Penguins quickly wasted that. Just 20 seconds after the bad call, Jason Zucker was called for an inadvertent trip behind the Islanders net.
Then, with Crosby on the ice for the 4-on-4, Kris Letang had one of his brain farts and took out Adam Pelech after a risky pinch. That created a 4-on-3 for the Islanders, which helped them build a daunting 3-0 lead just over six minutes into the period.
The Isles moved the puck around almost too calmly, but with only three Penguins skaters there was lots of room to do as they pleased. Eventually they created a one-time look for Oliver Wahlstrom, which Jarry made a great save on, but then Teddy Blueger helpfully knocked it in to make it 3-0.
The Isles had a little carryover 5-on-4 after that, but it wasn’t a powerplay setup that created the next goal. Instead, the Pens had a bad exchange in their own zone, Barzal stripped the puck and found Jordan Eberle alone in the low slot, and the Isles winger popped it high glove side to make it 4-0.
That was just 24 seconds after Wahlstrom’s goal, so the Isles were up 4-0 just 6:28 into the period.
The Isles kept play calm after that, so there was little fear of a miraculous comeback. The Pens were rattled and started doing the chippy stuff. Crosby had a sneaky slewfoot on Nelson as he skated by his own goal, reflecting the battle those two had all game. (Crosby? Slew foot? Never!)
Jake Guentzel got called for real, as he crosschecked Nelson twice in the corner. That gave the Isles a power play with a little over four minutes to go, but nothing came of it other than a Zach Aston-Reese shorthanded goal to break the shutout.
Reese’s goal came from a fortunate bounce, and the Isles then absorbed some garbage time Penguins pressure to close out the final 2:35.
After the final horn? Big, big hugs for Sorokin, who’s now backstopped both wins in this series and will surely start Game 5 on Monday in Pittsburgh.
Jordan Eberle: "The crowd kept us in it. You come out hearing them chant... we fed off their intensity right from puck-drop... It was nice to play with a lead and continue to build on it."#Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) May 22, 2021
- You never know how a goalie will be when he’s sat for five days but Sorokin was ready. He was so composed, and just like Game 1 his athleticism had him able to squash second chances. Big hug from Varlamov, too, at the end of the game. Hopefully they can ride him again.
- Love, love, love it when Malkin and Letang are irritated. Well, Crosby too, but Crosby is rarely punished for his reactions, where as Malkin and Letang don’t get the same passes from the refs.
- Speaking of which, Nelson on Crosby is always fun to watch.
- I don’t mean to give Barzal too much trouble about the shooting; he had an excellent game overall and was active all over. But to see him pass up prime shots to attempt to force a pretty pass to Cal Clutterbuck is...no.
- This game ensures at least one more playoff night at Nassau Coliseum, and with fans. Even at half capacity, it’s so damned electric.