NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Penguins outshot and outplayed, but outlast Predators 5-3 in Game 1

Jake Guentzel scored the game winner on the Pens’ first shot in more than 37 minutes.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Penguins were outshot 26-12 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

They won 5-3.

Jake Guentzel scored the game-winning goal with just more than 3 minutes to play in the third period on Pittsburgh’s first shot in 37 minutes and nine seconds. Needless to say, the Pens found a way, somehow, to survive Game 1.

Nick Bonino added an empty netter shortly thereafter to seal the 5-3 victory, because of course a team that had 12 shots and was totally outplayed and outclassed the entire game would score five times and win by two goals. Why not?

The whole game was out of character for the Penguins, outside of the final three minutes and about 10 minutes of the first period, when good fortune — and a favorable replay review — put the home team way out in front.

Nashville’s PK Subban opened the scoring with a wicked wrister from the point about seven minutes into the game. Until he didn’t.

Look, say what you will about the rule benefiting the Pens in this instance, so who cares on a local Pittsburgh site, but this is a stupid rule that hurts the game. First, allowing the bench to challenge offsides that aren’t called after the fact is theoretically in the interest of getting the call right, but the linesman was right there and there wasn’t a definitive enough look at that play to warrant taking a goal off the board in the Stanley Cup Final. If any replay takes as long as the league took, the play is likely too close to call and any goal that came from it should stand. That’s just a bad use of technology, and it stripped a goal from one of the game’s biggest stars on its most signifiant night, saddling fans — of both teams, and the sport in general — with waiting through a nearly five-minute delay.

But, sure, the good guys benefitted, and momentum shifted. So we celebrate the call.

“We got a three-way radio with our video guy in the room, our guys upstairs,” Mike Sullivan told NBC’s Pierre McGuire on the bench after the play. “We have a discussion amongst us and if we think it’s really close, usually we’re going to challenge it.”

Sullivan’s decision to challenge was right, and the Penguins were rewarded for making the smart call on a dumb rule; one that Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL, defended just before the game. So congrats. Just remember the feeling if it happens on a Crosby goal at some point in the series.

And know that it totally changed the course of the game, and maybe the series.

That’s the Pens official website writers’ Twitter feed crediting the team’s video guy for being the key to the first period. And then came the barrage of goals.

First came this fantastic one-timer by Evgeni Malkin, who continues to rack up the points on his way to the Conn Smythe trophy. Malkin’s blast came on a 5-on-3 after the Predators committed coincidental minor penalties.

One minute five seconds later, Conor Sheary found the near empty net after a ridiculous cross-ice, no-look pass from Chris Kunitz to take the 2-0 lead. Crosby had secondary assists on both goals.

Three minutes later, just before the first period expired, Nick Bonino threw the puck in the general direction of the net and, as (bad) luck would have it for Nashville, it went in.

The game felt over, and yet, the Pens had three goals on just eight shots. A glimmer of hope remained for Nashville, because Pittsburgh let them back into the game.

The second period started how the first ended — with the Predators actually shooting on their own goalie — but the Preds looked to have more energy than the Penguins after the first intermission. If the first period turned with an offsides call, the second period turned with another blue line-related delay.

Shortly after a catfish ended up on the ice, leading to a delay nowhere near as long as the replay review took FWIW, Ian Cole was called for roughing — the Pens’ second penalty within the first seven minutes — and Ryan Ellis netted the Preds’ first goal that actually stood in the series.

Things got better for Nashville from there. Though they didn’t score again in the second, they absolutely controlled play throughout the period, outshooting the Penguins 9-0 in the session.

After not even needing to shoot the puck to score the third goal with seconds to go in the first period, the Pens didn’t even register a shot in the second, the first time that’s happened in team history in the playoffs. 

And so, in the third period, it was more of the same. For the first 10 minutes of the period the Predators fought the Penguins to every puck, holding Pittsburgh’s offense without a shot. After a Malkin slash that gave Nashville another power play, Colton Sissons netted the puck on a deflection — this time the Preds kneed the puck into the right net — to cut the lead to 3-2.

If only that Subban goal had counted, huh?

And speaking of Subban, his penalty for accidentally flipping the puck over the glass in his own defensive zone sent him to the penalty box with under 10 to go in the third period, but not only were the Penguins unable to finish off the Preds, they STILL failed to put a shot on Pekke Rinne.

Then, all of a sudden … boom. Tie game.

Until it wasn’t.

Guentzel’s goal was his 10th of the playoffs, and gave the Penguins the 1-0 lead they had no business having. Rinne made just seven saves on the day, facing only 11 shots. Maybe the Penguins were letting him cramp up before netting the game winner. Whatever happened, it worked, and the Penguins — despite being outshot and outclassed for most of the game, held on to win.

Game 2 is Wednesday back at the Paint Can. Pittsburgh is going to have to figure out how to get more than a dozen shots on goal before then.