Kyle Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Islanders over Penguins in Game 1

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One of the most evenly matched series of the NHL playoffs did not disappoint in Game 1.

It was the Penguins’ speed against the Islanders’ structure, and the Islanders prevailed with a 4-3 victory in overtime 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 pace that demanded to be kept up with and compelled the Isles into uncharacteristic penalty-ridden play. But the Islanders grinded through it, as they’re known to do, and were opportunistic when they had to be.

The Islanders were without their starting netminder, Semyon Varlamov, who sustained a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale. That left rookie Ilya Sorokin to make the first NHL playoff appearance of his career, which came with his first taste of overtime in the postseason.

However, this wasn’t a game that could’ve been won in the net, not with the way the Penguins flew through the neutral zone and repeatedly drew the Islanders out of position. But Sorokin held his own, finishing with 39 saves, including 10 in overtime.

The playoff intensity bubbled over in the third. With the Isles trailing 2-1 at the start of the third, all four lines began to gain traction. It culminated during a Pittsburgh change just over 3 ½ minutes into the final 20 minutes, when Jean Gabriel Pageau received a feed at the blue line and carried it in before going far post on Jarry to tie it up.

Brock Nelson’s shot between the dots then beat Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and Jarry with 4:10 left in regulation, but less than 30 seconds later Pittsburgh right winger Kasperi Kapanen answered on the other end 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, the team’s trade-deadline acquisition from the Devils, 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 entire duration of their man-advantage, but a handful of blocks and Sorokin’s toe save on Crosby kept it a tie game.

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