The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at the trade deadline believing his mix of grit and scoring touch would make a difference in the playoffs.
So far, so very good.
Palmieri knocked a fluttering puck past Tristan Jarry 16:30 into overtime to give the Islanders a 4-3 victory over the host Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round series on Sunday.
The Long Island native collected a pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau near the goal line and lifted it over Jarry’s left shoulder as New York beat the Penguins for the first time in five tries at PPG Paints Arena this season.
“I was brought here to try to help this team win,” Palmieri said. “Obviously, it’s just one game. [Monday], we’ll get back to work and get ready for Game 2 [Tuesday night in Pittsburgh]. But it’s nice to start off on the right foot.”
Pageau and Brock Nelson also scored for the Islanders. Rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin made 39 saves in his playoff debut and New York handed Pittsburgh, which got 37 saves from Jarry, its 10th loss in the franchise’s last 11 postseason games.
Sidney Crosby, Frederick Gaudreau and Kasperi Kapanen scored for the Penguins, but the East Division champions couldn’t capitalize despite controlling play for most of the first two periods.
The Penguins played without Russian star Evgeni Malkin. The three-time Stanley Cup winner missed 23 games during the regular season with a lower-body injury but did appear in Pittsburgh’s final four games.
The Islanders came in on their heels after finishing the regular season in a 6-6-3 funk, with none of the victories coming against playoff qualifiers.
In the end, it ultimately didn’t matter. Sorokin — just the second rookie goaltender in Islanders history to start the first game of the postseason — played spectacularly at times while filling in for injured Semyon Varlamov to help New York steal home-ice advantage.
“He’s a goalie, he’s a person, that has a lot of confidence and is super calm,” Pageau said of Sorokin, the 25-year-old rookie Russian goaltender. “You see him in practice, he’s a competitive guy . . . He’s a huge part of that win tonight.”
Crosby made it 2-1 3:47 into the second when he picked up his 69th career playoff goal — and 190th career postseason point — with a sublime deflection in which he fended off New York defenseman Andy Greene and redirected the puck with just the tip of his stick.
The goal moved Crosby into a tie with Hall of Famer Brett Hull for seventh on the NHL’s career postseason scoring list.
“Just tried to get my stick on it,” Crosby said. “Didn’t know which way it was going to go. Fortunately, [Brian Dumoulin] put it in a good spot.”
“I know [Palmieri] probably put a little new pressure during the regular season when he joined us,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz. “We knew that when the games got tight and you have to go to the dirty areas, a guy like him is capable of producing. He was able to do that tonight.”
Hurricanes, Predators to square off
The Carolina Hurricanes have gone from being mired in a nearly decade-long playoff drought to a division champion armed with postseason experience and success. Their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators offers the chance to maintain that upward trajectory — or suffer the first significant stumble of that three-season climb. The teams open their series Monday, with the Hurricanes facing heightened expectations after winning the Central Division for their first division crown since hoisting the Stanley Cup 15 years ago. They were in the hunt for the Presidents’ Trophy until the season’s final week. “I feel like everybody’s hunting each other,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, captain of the 2006 title winner. “That’s our mentality. That’s the way we have to play anyway.” This marks the first time the Hurricanes have reached three straight postseasons since the franchise relocated to North Carolina in 1997 from Hartford, Connecticut. Nashville is in the postseason for the seventh straight season, including a trip to the 2017 Cup Final. This year’s group extended that streak with a late-season surge after sitting 28th overall in the NHL standings as of late February, winning 20 of 28 to close the schedule. “We’ve been more or less playing playoff hockey for the last two months because our playoff lives were on the line,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis . . . The status of Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin is unclear. He left last weekend’s loss at Nashville early and missed practices this week before getting work in Sunday, though Brind’Amour said he’s a game-time decision. Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce and forward Cedric Paquette missed time this week as well . . .The Predators plan to increase fan capacity for the playoffs to 12,135 fans starting with Game 3. The Hurricanes had been allowing about 5,000 fans, though North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper eased COVID-19 restrictions this week. Carolina is set to host about 10,000 to 12,000. “It’ll make a huge difference,” said Hurricanes defenseman Jake Bean. “When we were in Nashville the last few games, it felt like it was the loudest we had played in all season.”