Islanders need Ilya Sorokin to build off funk-snapping win with playoff hopes still alive

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There might not be anyone in the Islanders’ dressing room — scratch that, there might not be many people in the NHL, period — who are more tunnel-visioned than Ilya Sorokin.

This single-mindedness has always been part of what makes Sorokin tick — a by-product of moving to Novokuznetsk, Russia, at age 12 to focus on hockey.

So hearing a rare hint at the bigger picture come from him Tuesday night after breaking a personal six-game losing streak against the Blackhawks made for good reason to raise eyebrows.

“It was a long series, losing series. It sits into my head,” Sorokin told The Post. “I try, don’t think about this, but it sits in my head. And it’s a good win. [I’ll get] good sleep tonight.”

Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders tends the net against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night. Getty Images

On the calendar, it had been nearly an entire month since Sorokin last won, dating back to March 7 in San Jose.

The 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks was not by any means the greatest game Sorokin has ever played, mostly his teammates made sure it did not need to be, but it was the sort of building block he very much needed.

He stopped 18 of 19 shots and nine of 10 high-danger shots.

By Natural Stat Trick’s accounting, the Blackhawks tallied 2.66 expected goals against and Sorokin allowed just one goal.

Particularly in the third period, the Islanders played a strong defensive game, holding the Blackhawks without a high-danger chance over the final 20 minutes.

“He made the saves when he needed to make the saves,” Bo Horvat said. “Obviously he wasn’t getting the wins, but he’s a phenomenal goaltender. You can’t take that away from him. We hadn’t been playing the best in front of him, so it wasn’t entirely his fault.”

If there was anyone on this roster who deserved a night in which his teammates did a lot of the grunt work, it was Sorokin, who dragged them into the playoffs a year ago.

“The thing I was extremely proud of, I thought he had a good presence in front of the net and that’s what you want to see,” coach Patrick Roy said. “I hope this game will bring a lot of confidence to him, his first win in a while.”

Whether or not Sorokin will get a second straight start against the Blue Jackets on Thursday isn’t known yet.

But though Roy has turned to Semyon Varlamov as his 1A option lately, it is no secret the Islanders need Sorokin to use Tuesday as a springboard to start looking like his 2022-23 self.

Nothing would give the Islanders a better chance to not just make the playoffs, but to actually do something if they get there.

That version of Sorokin could steal a series if he gets hot.

The version that showed up in March would be lucky to get the majority of starts over seven games.

“It’s like typical, routine goalie moments,” Sorokin said of the issues that have worked their way into his play recently. “So it’s like traffic and position play.”

What makes Sorokin an excellent goaltender is his almost otherworldly flexibility and reaction speed.

But that goes hand in hand with those issues.

To give himself maximum time to react, Sorokin plays much further back in the crease than Varlamov. That can — and has — made him more susceptible to screens and rebounds.

Alexander Romanov and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders celebrate their 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at UBS Arena on April 2. Getty Images

Defensively, this is a large reason why the Islanders have looked more comfortable for much of the season with Varlamov in net.

Where Sorokin is constantly reacting, making it hard to predict the way the puck will bounce next, Varlamov just lets shots hit him, a product of being positionally sound.

Still, the Islanders’ ceiling with Sorokin eclipses their ceiling with Varlamov, even as No. 30 acknowledged that sitting for three straight games before Tuesday was the right thing for him.

New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) looks on during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at UBS Arena. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“It’s a good time for me to watch and work, be better in my game,” he said.

Does he feel like the problems have been solved?

“One game,” he said. “I don’t know. You’ll see in future.”


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