PITTSBURGH — All through the shortened regular season, from the strong start to the so-so finish, the Islanders understood the real task.
This is a playoff-tested team with Stanley Cup aspirations after reaching the Eastern Conference finals last season.
So while Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round series on Kyle Palmieri’s second goal ultimately was the desired start, the Islanders know, based on their experience, that it was only that: a start.
The Penguins had the better of the play for two periods and held a one-goal lead entering the third period. The Islanders had the better goalie in rookie Ilya Sorokin, who stopped 39 shots, including 10 in overtime. The Penguins’ Tristan Jarry made 37 saves but let in four goals that could be considered questionable.
"Yeah, playoffs is going to be a wild ride," said Brock Nelson, who gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead at 15:50 of the third period only to have Kasperi Kapanen tie it 31 seconds later. "You’ve got to try and level it out. You get the lead, you like to hang on to it. They come back with a push and get one. At that point, you’ve just got to re-set and know we’re still in a hockey game, one shot away from winning it."
That came as Palmieri — the former Devil who had only two goals in 17 regular-season games for the Islanders after being acquired on April 7 — lifted a sharp-angle shot from the right at 16:30 of the extra period for his first career playoff overtime goal.
It was the longest-ever game between the teams, who had gone to overtime six times previously in playoff series.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Pittsburgh before the series shifts from PPG Paints Arena to Nassau Coliseum for Thursday night’s Game 3.
"It’s an incredibly exciting time," said Palmieri, who was born in Smithtown. "The opportunity to be in the playoffs is something I don’t take for granted. It’s hard to get here. We came on the road with a mission and we were able to go out there and find a way to win.
"The first two periods, we were trying to find our game and find things that made us successful as a team," Palmieri added. "We came out in the third, down a goal on the road, and played a lot closer to what our game is. It’s nice to get the result tonight."
The Islanders’ game started to settle late in the second period, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau beat Jarry over his glove on an unscreened shot from the left circle to bring the Islanders into a 2-2 tie at 3:33 of the third period.
"It’s something that you feel coming sometimes," said Pageau, who also had the primary assists on both of Palmieri’s goals. "A couple of good shifts, a couple of hits. Put some pucks on net, you see that you have chances. A couple of big saves, that can change momentum in a game. A couple of penalty kills gave us some momentum also. We have some stuff that we can work on, but we’re happy we won that first one. It’s a big one."
The Islanders killed off all three Penguins power plays, including Sorokin’s stretching skate save on Sidney Crosby at the right post in the first period after the Penguins spent all two minutes in the offensive zone.
However, the Islanders mustered only two shots on a disheartening four-minute power play after Jeff Carter high-sticked Nelson at 12:25 of the second period.
The Penguins took the game’s first four shots, but the Islanders scored first as Palmieri beat Jarry over his glove from the right circle at 7:58 of the first period. Frederick Gaudreau tied it at 1 at 11:10 after Sorokin stopped his initial shot and Josh Bailey blocked Gaudreau’s second try.
Crosby’s jaw-dropping, one-handed tip around defenseman Andy Greene of defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s shot gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 3:47 of the second period.
"It’s Game 1," coach Barry Trotz said. "We were able to get it done and we’ll put it in the rearview mirror right now and see if we can be better for the next game."
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