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Kyle Palmieri shows why Islanders acquired him at trade deadline

The Islanders' Kyle Palmieri, center, celebrates with Nick

The Islanders' Kyle Palmieri, center, celebrates with Nick Leddy and Oliver Wahlstrom after putting a shot over Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry for the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 1 of an NHL Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

Who knows what will become of the player the Islanders might have drafted in the first round in late July, a pick that now belongs to the Devils?

Hall of Famer? Dud? Somewhere in between, most likely.

But Kyle Palmieri made sure that was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind on Sunday when he did what he was brought here to do: Score goals when they matter most, in this case two of them.

The first came 7:58 into Game 1 of the Islanders’ first-round NHL playoff series against the Penguins, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The second came 16:30 into overtime for a 4-3 victory, when he popped a bouncing puck from a sharp angle into a small window over the left shoulder of Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry.

Thus in one afternoon did he match his goal-scoring total in 17 regular-season games since arriving with Travis Zajac in a trade that required giving up that 2021 first-rounder.

It was Palmieri’s first career playoff overtime goal, so it was a special moment that spoke for itself. But asked whether it meant even more given the circumstances, Palmieri said, "Yeah, I mean, I was brought here to try to help this team win."

It was the second year in a row that a trade-deadline pickup made GM Lou Lamoriello look good. In 2020, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had an excellent postseason, including scoring the Islanders’ first goal of the playoffs.

Pageau’s current linemate, Palmieri now is off to a similar start. (Zajac did not dress for Game 1.)

"I’m really glad for ‘Palms,’ " coach Barry Trotz said. "I know he probably put a little undue pressure (on himself) during the regular season when he joined us, but 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, and he was able to do that (in Game 1)."

Trotz said he counseled Palmieri during his regular-season drought to focus on playing well and that the scoring would take care of itself.

"He’s a proud hockey player, and we made the trade for him and he wanted to show he was worth everything that we gave up at the trade deadline," Trotz said. "So there’s a different pressure for him, and we just worked through it and stuck with it and hopefully we get rewarded through the playoffs."

Palmieri, 30, is a free agent-to-be and might just be passing through with the Islanders. But he is turning into a heck of a story in the meantime

Although he grew up primarily in New Jersey, he was born in Smithtown, still has family in Suffolk County and summers at his home on the North Fork.

For a guy who has been here for a month-and-a-half, he seems to be fitting in in every way – especially after Sunday.

"He’s an Islander," Pageau said. "Just to see him out there doing his thing, he’s so competitive, winning all of his battles, being hard on the puck. That’s how we play the game. He fits right in. He was our best player tonight."

Palmieri said the six-day break after the end of the regular season helped, because it finally allowed for some quality practice time to further integrate himself.

Then again, maybe it was just the whiskers. Palmieri had to shave his familiar beard when he joined the Islanders, because Lamoriello is not a fan of regular-season facial hair.

But the boss relaxes that policy in the playoffs. Even after one game, Palmieri is well on his way to a new beard.

Asked he if appreciated no longer having to shave, he laughed and said, "Yeah, a little bit. I enjoyed not having to carry a razor around all the time."

On Sunday, he cut down the Penguins instead. Fifteen wins to go.

New York Sports