The New York Islanders can put themselves in great position with a win Tuesday in Game 2 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the host Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders won Sunday’s series opener in Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime, a huge step toward negating the Penguins’ home-ice advantage.
It also was a statement game for forward Kyle Palmieri, who was acquired at the trade deadline but had just two goals in 17 games for the Islanders — until he scored twice, including the overtime winner, on Sunday.
“I was brought here to try to help this team win,” Palmieri said. “Obviously, it’s just one game. We’ll get back to work and get ready for Game 2, but it’s nice to start off on the right foot.”
New York coach Barry Trotz had been expecting good things from Palmieri.
“I know he probably put a little new pressure (on himself) during the regular season when he joined us,” Trotz said. “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.”
New York, the fourth seed in the East Division, gained important momentum by taking the series opener against the division-winning Penguins.
The Islanders did so without No. 1 goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was held out of Game 1 as a precaution coming off a minor injury. Rookie Ilya Sorokin made 39 saves in his NHL playoff debut, although Trotz indicated that Varlamov should be available for Game 2.
Pittsburgh’s goaltending came under some scrutiny after Game 1. Top goaltender Tristan Jarry made 37 saves, several of them high-quality, but seemed a little vulnerable on a couple of goals, particularly when New York took aim at his glove hand.
Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci defended Jarry, who was making just his second playoff appearance and is the team’s No. 1 goalie in the postseason for the first time.
“He’s been great for us all season long,” Ceci said. “He’s stolen us a lot of games. Even (Sunday), he gave us a chance. There were a few times they could have ended it and he made some big saves. He’s a key part of our team. We’re not worried about him.”
Overall, Pittsburgh, which won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, has lost 10 of its past 11 playoff games. That includes being swept by the Islanders in the first round two years ago.
The Penguins insist this year feels different, and they refuse to be discouraged over Sunday’s loss.
“I thought we did some good things, especially in the first half (of Game 1),” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, the team’s top scorer during the season who notched a goal Sunday. “I thought we were on our toes, created a lot. I still think there are some things that we can improve on, but I thought we came out with the right mindset and generated a lot of chances. We’ll look to continue to do that.”
The Penguins could get a boost if forward Evgeni Malkin, one of their franchise players, can return. He missed Sunday’s game after tweaking something in the final regular-season game and has been practicing, but it remains to be seen whether he will be cleared to play Tuesday.
–Field Level Media