The Islanders celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory over the Penguins during...

The Islanders celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory over the Penguins during an NHL game on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Credit: AP/Philip G. Pavely

PITTSBURGH — It’s not the best formula during a playoff push, playing less-than-crisp hockey for 40 minutes only to turn it around — again — in the third period.

But, hey, whatever works for the Islanders.

They rallied for a 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena to sweep the four-game season series — coming back in each of the last three victories — and move two points ahead of the Penguins for the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot.

“I didn’t think we were great in the first couple of periods in terms of some of our battles,” coach Lane Lambert said. “We corrected them. I thought our guys did a good job of recognizing the situation. Give them full marks. It’s a huge character win to be able to come out and do that in the third period.”

Brock Nelson scored the winner on a breakaway at 2:13 of the extra period after Ilya Sorokin (33 saves) poke-checked the puck away from Rickard Rakell for his first career assist.

Hudson Fasching took Casey Cizikas’ feed to the right post and scored to bring the Islanders within 3-2 at 14:31 of the third period. Anders Lee, with his second goal, scored the equalizer at the crease at 18:45 with Sorokin pulled for an extra skater.

“They were playing really good in the first and the second,” said Fasching, who extended his point streak to a career-high three games. “But we’ve proven we’ve been a third-period team.”

The Islanders (34-25-8) have outscored their opponents 17-1 in the third period in the last 10 games. They are 6-1-1 since a 4-2 win in Pittsburgh — when they scored three third-period goals — and secured the first season series sweep for either team in this rivalry since it began in 1972.

“It’s belief in ourselves, that’s the biggest thing,” Cizikas said. “The game is not won after 40 minutes.”

“It’s nice to come back,” said Sorokin, who gloved defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s slap shot just 16 seconds before Nelson’s winner. “It’s a nice third period again. It was a really important win.”

Tristan Jarry made 24 saves for the Penguins (32-22-10), who are on a 5-1-1 spurt and have played three fewer games than the Islanders. Jarry was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots in what became a 5-4 overtime win over the visiting Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.

“It’s a big win,” said Lee, who shoveled in a power-play goal at 5:23 of the first period to open the scoring. “Geez, it wasn’t our prettiest game of late by any means. We fought for that one quite a bit. The last 20 minutes, we did everything we could to right the ship and get back in that game. Zeeker and Fasch got us going. We just needed one.”

The Islanders’ recent success has been fueled by strong defensive structure, but they struggled early against the Penguins’ forecheck.

Jake Guentzel tied the score at 1-1 at 11:07 of the first period as he established position above the blue paint and tipped Pettersson’s shot from the left point. Jason Zucker’s one-timer from the slot gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 18:24 of the first period.

Josh Archibald extended it to 3-1 at 10:49 of the second period as he deflected defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s blue-line wrist shot.

Sorokin immediately questioned whether the puck had been tipped by a high stick and Lambert spent a long time looking at the replay to see if he wanted to challenge — also based on the puck hitting an open door to the Penguins’ bench — before declining to do so.

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