Kyle Palmieri just officially paid off his deal as the New York Islanders’ trade-deadline acquisition from the New Jersey Devils that had sputtered for the last month of the regular season fired two goals — including the overtime game-winner — to bookend a 4-3 Game 1 victory of the first round of the Eastern Division playoffs over the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon.
With 3:30 to go in the first overtime, the veteran winger skated down the right-wing, cut in toward Tristan Jarry’s goal, and popped a quick wrister off the netminder’s shoulder and into the roof of the net.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time,” Palmieri said. “The opportunity to be in these playoffs is something I don’t take for granted. It’s hard to get here and we came on the road with a mission and we were able to go out there and find a way to win.”
His heroics on an impactful third line featuring J-G Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom preserved a well-deserved playoff-debut victory for rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who was called into action with Semyon Varlamov still getting over an injury. He became just the second goaltender in Islanders history to start the opening game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, joining Chico Resch in 1975.
Sorokin was superb, making 36 saves on 39 shot attempts while keeping the Islanders in it during the opening two periods — which were largely dominated by the Penguins.
“His personality, he’s as level-headed of a goaltender you’re going to meet,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “He had a smile on his face when I told him and said ‘I’ll be ready coach.'”
But it was Palmieri, who had been nearly silent since his acquisition last month, who got the Islanders on the board first 7:58 into the game when he snuck a wrist shot over the glove of Jarry after meandering by himself into the Penguins zone.
The lead would last just over three minutes, though, as an inability to clear the zone after a pair of blocked shots allowed Freddy Gaudreau to snipe a wrister over Sorokin to tie things up.
While Sorokin came up tremendously with a couple of highlight-reel-worthy saves over three crucial penalty kills — the first skate-blade save on Crosby late in the first with a wide-open net before an acrobatic stretch to deny an Evan Rodrigues wraparound — he was constantly left out to dry by a team that showed little jump to its game.
The Penguins took the lead 3:47 into the second period when Sidney Crosby redirected a Brian Dumoulin shot with one hand past the Islanders’ rookie goaltender, who was sliding in the opposite direction.
The Islanders had an opportunity to seize some momentum after Jeff Carter’s high stick on Brock Nelson drew blood 12 minutes into the second — awarding New York with a four-minute double-minor power play. But the Islanders could only muster two shots with an overarching inability to establish possession in the Penguins’ zone.
It only put more of a premium on Sorokin’s play to keep things close after the Penguins came up empty on their own man-advantages.
“I thought he was really sharp on a power play late in the second period,” Trotz said. “We had to get through that. If we don’t get through that, we’re not sitting here winning the first game. That would’ve been a tough hill to climb.”
With one of their best pushes of the afternoon to start the third, the Islanders found an equalizer basically out of nothing when Pageau caught the Penguins on a change, moved in on Jarry between the dots, and snapped another wrister up high over the youngster’s glove 3:33 into the frame.
“I was aiming five-hole but it came up on me,” Pageau said with a smile. “I was shooting it as hard as I could.”
Just moments after he missed a golden opportunity of a one-timer from Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier won the puck at the Penguins’ blue line and fed Brock Nelson, who snuck a wrister under the arm of Jarry.
But just 31 seconds later, Kasperi Kapanen knotted things right back up with 3:39 left in regulation to force overtime.
“The playoffs are going to be a wild ride,” Nelson said. “You have to try and level it out, get the lead and hang onto it. But they came back with a push and got one, but you just had to reset and we did that.”
This was the second-straight time that the Islanders defeated the Penguins in overtime in Game 1 of a playoff series and their first overtime postseason victory in Pittsburgh since David Volek’s memorable Game 7 winner in 1993.