One of the most evenly matched series of the NHL playoffs did not disappoint in Game 1.
In a battle between the Islanders’ structure and Penguins’ speed, the Islanders prevailed with a 4-3 overtime victory Sunday at PPG Paints Arena behind Kyle Palmieri’s second goal of the game.
With just over three minutes left in the extra period, Palmieri chipped the puck right over the left shoulder of Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry to secure the first game of the series.
From puck drop, Pittsburgh set a frenetic pace that forced the Isles out of position and into taking uncharacteristic penalties.
But the Islanders grinded through it, as they’re known to do, and were opportunistic when they had to be.
Islanders rookie netminder Ilya Sorokin held his own with 39 saves, including 10 in overtime, while starting in place of Semyon Varlamov, who sustained a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale.
The playoff intensity boiled over in the third, which began with the Islanders trailing 2-1. All four Islanders lines picked it up in the period, and just three minutes in, during a Pittsburgh line change, Jean Gabriel Pageau received a feed at the blue line and carried it in before going far post on Jarry to tie it up.
The Islanders took the lead when Brock Nelson’s shot between the dots later on beat Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and Jarry with 4:10 left in regulation. But fewer than 30 seconds later, Pittsburgh right winger Kasperi Kapanen answered to send the game to OT.
Leading up to the start of the series, the Islanders weren’t shy in acknowledging how lofty of a challenge a player like Sidney Crosby presents, and the Penguins star center was the force they expected. Crosby, who finished with one goal on five shots, gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead to take into the third period with a deflection on a Brian Dumoulin shot from the top of the zone at 3:47.
The Islanders then had to fend off two Penguins power plays that sandwiched a four-minute man-advantage of their own that they failed to capitalize on.
The Penguins leaned on their quick pace, which took a few minutes for the Islanders to adjust to. The Islanders didn’t register their first shot on goal until over 5 ½ minutes into the game, but whenever they managed to cross into the offensive zone they were opportunistic.
Head coach Barry Trotz was looking for Palmieri, acquired from the Devils at the trade deadline, to take on a bigger role in the playoffs – and the left winger delivered in Game 1. Palmieri opened up the scoring after skating around traffic and sniping one from the right faceoff circle over Jarry’s glove at 7:58.
Just under four minutes later, Josh Bailey made a few blocks but couldn’t clear the puck before Frederick Gaudreau tied it up for the Penguins.
After a slew of Islanders chances, including Cal Clutterbuck’s failed breakaway attempt and Nelson’s shot that danced across the goal line, Sorokin tripped up Penguins left winger Jake Guentzel. Pittsburgh trapped the Isles penalty kill unit in their zone for the two-minute man-advantage, but a handful of blocks and Sorokin’s toe save on Crosby kept it tied at the time.