Penguins 5 Predators 3
PITTSBURGH — Jake Guentzel helped the Pittsburgh Penguins avoid a humiliating defeat in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
Guentzel broke a 3-3 tie with just over three minutes left in regulation as the Penguins hung on to beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Monday night. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 first-period lead completely unravel and failed to generate a single shot for about 37 minutes, including zero in the second period.
Sidney Crosby had two assists, Nick Bonino scored a pair and Evgeni Malkin found the back of the net as the Pens grabbed a 1-0 series lead. Conor Sheary also landed his first goal of the playoffs and Matt Murray made 23 saves.
Pekka Rinne was shaky in yielding four goals on only 11 shots for the Predators.
Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederik Gaudreau scored for Nashville, their comeback attempt falling short in the first Stanley Cup final game in franchise history.
Mike Fisher was the only Pred with any experience in the final previously, but it was Nashville that looked at home early.
They even appeared to score first when P.K. Subban drove a blast past Murray less than seven minutes in. The former Canadiens defenceman broke into an exuberant celebration after the apparent goal, but his excitement was dulled when Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan challenged the play for offsides.
After a lengthy review, which saw officials huddled over an iPad at centre-ice, the goal was called back with Filip Forsberg deemed to have entered the zone early.
Dulled in their attack to that point, the Pens started to pick it up after the favourable decision and with just over six minutes left in the period, gained a full two-minute five-on-three advantage. Calle Jarnkrok drew the first whistle for interference and James Neal added the second with a needless cross-check on Trevor Daley.
Traded from Pittsburgh to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist (who drew the Jarnkrok penalty) in June 2014, Neal was booed when he was introduced before the game and grinned in response.
Malkin made him and the Preds pay with a one-time blast from the point — his eighth goal and 25th point of the playoffs. He was helped by Guentzel’s presence in front and Crosby, who got the play started by blocking Mattias Ekholm’s clearing attempt behind the net.
Containing Crosby and Malkin was a top priority for Nashville heading into the final with the Penguins duo — chasing their third Cup together — ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in post-season scoring.
Those efforts failed again with the Pittsburgh captain keying the second Penguins goal 65 seconds after the first.
After Brian Dumoulin kept a clearing attempt in at the blue-line, Crosby got the puck down low, fought off a check and then found Chris Kunitz high in the zone. The double overtime goal-scorer in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, Kunitz quickly found Sheary on the weak-side and he fired past Rinne.
Bonino added the third goal in just over four minutes and third on seven shots to beat Rinne, a star through the first three rounds who gave up three goals total in a first round sweep of Chicago.
The first 20 minutes didn’t come up without some concern for the Penguins.
Shortly before Malkin opened the scoring, Murray came up in some discomfort after a save and stayed down on one knee in the crease as the play went the other way. At the TV timeout, the 22-year-old, who only recently returned from a lower body injury, went to the bench and spoke to the team trainer as well as Marc-Andre Fleury, who had the starting role before Murray returned last round.
Whatever momentum Pittsburgh built with their three-goal first was gone by the second. Nashville dominated the period with shift after shift buzzing in the Penguins zone and hammering their weakened defence — which is without top defender Kris Letang.
They got on the board with a power-play goal from Ellis, set up by Subban. Viktor Arvidsson screened Murray on the shot, the puck screaming between his legs and into the net.
The Pens failed to land a single shot on Rinne for the entire period and were outshot 9-0. They became the first team to go shot-less in a period in a Stanley Cup final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1957-58.
Their struggles continued in the third with the Preds blocking shots or breaking up their attempts to make plays in the offensive zone as the home crowd moaned. Pittsburgh was still without a shot from the first period when Sissons pulled Nashville to within one with the Preds second power-play goal of the night.
Even a power play didn’t help with the Pens failing to land a shot.
It was shortly after that the Preds completed the comeback from 3-0 with Gaudreau depositing his first NHL goal on a feed from Austin Watson behind the net. An undrafted rookie centre from Quebec, Gaudreau was playing in only his 12th ever NHL game — regular season and playoffs combined.
Guentzel finally got the Penguins a shot and the go-ahead goal and his 10th of the playoffs with just over three minutes left. The rookie beat Rinne off the rush to end a 37-minute shot-less spell for Pittsburgh.
Bonino added his second of the game into an empty net.