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Surge to Playoffs: Palmieri, Islanders Fork Devils 5-1, Stay Ahead of Penguins

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New York Islanders Game, win 5-1 over New Jersey Devils

The New York Islanders (38-28-9) needed that win if they liked being ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference’s first wild card. Kyle Palmieri had his best game of the season with a pair of goals and carried the Islander’s offense in the Islanders’ 5-1 win at UBS Arena.

Palmieri had a hand in all three Islanders goals (before the empty netters), including the backbreaker late in the third period. Palmieri received a Devils d-zone turnover and wired a one-timer over Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek for a 3-1 lead in the final minutes.

After failing to win either of their last two games (0-1-1), Pittsburgh closed within one point. In Game No. 75, the Islanders bombarded the second-place New Jersey Devils (46-20-8) in the second period and held on in the third for a crucial 2-1 win at UBS Arena.

The win was the Islanders’ sixth in their last 10 games (6-3-1) and put them three points ahead of Pittsburgh, which has two games in hand, and a much easier late-season schedule, including five of their final nine games against non-playoff teams.

The Florida Panthers lost in regulation to the Ottawa Senators Monday, giving the Islanders a six-point lead over Florida with seven games to play.

Pierre Engvall snapped a three-game scoreless streak with an early first-period goal. Palmieri had a full zone breakaway after Devils defenseman Ryan Graves fell at the blue line. Vanecek stuffed Palmieri, but Engvall (16) had an open net for an uncontested tap-in rebound goal.

It was Engvall’s sixth point (4-2-6) in 11 games since the Islanders acquired him at the NHL trade deadline. The goal also camouflaged a slow start in which the Devils earned 16 scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Palmieri finally got his goal later in the second period with an extraordinary backhander. Palmieri (14) skated around the Devil’s net, paused, and completed the nearly full lap around the net before unleashing a wicked top-shelf backhander over Vanceck’s shoulder.

The New York Islanders reversed the domination in the second, though they earned only a one-goal lead after two periods. The Islanders had a 20-9 scoring chance advantage in the second period and a 29-12 shot attempt advantage.

Devils center Erik Haula tied the game 1-1 when he swiped Brock Nelson’s ill-advised pass in the Devils’ zone for a 100-foot breakaway goal early in the second period.

The Islanders dodged a bullet midway through the third period. Tomas Tatar appeared to score the tying goal, but the referees immediately waived it off due to a kicking motion. It was close, but after a review, the call was upheld.

New Jersey charged in the third period. They ripped 10 of 13 shots in the first 15 minutes of the period, and only Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin preserved the lead with extra-credit saves on Haula and Ondrej Palat.

The Islanders protected the net despite heavy New Jersey pressure in the third period and the final minutes.

Bo Horvat scored his first goal in 12 games when he added the empty netter.

Zach Parise scored another empty netter with less than a second remaining.

Sorokin improved to 7-1-2 in his last 10 games with the win. He stopped 30 of 31 shots. Vanecek was no slouch and stopped 31 of 34.

The Washington Capitals host the New York Islanders Wednesday at Capital One Arena.