After blowing a 3-0 lead, the Penguins got two goals late in the third period to win the Stanley Cup Final opener in Pittsburgh.
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PITTSBURGH — Penguins forward Conor Sheary offered that “no one is going to ask us how we get wins this time of year.”
But the Pittsburgh Penguins are asking themselves how they could play as poorly as they did and still manage to record a 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“None of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
The Penguins won on a night when they only managed to generate 12 shots on goal, and went a span of 37:09 without officially recording a shot. They didn’t have a single shot in the second period.
The Predators outplayed the Penguins for the vast majority of the game. They were quicker to the puck and won the majority of puck battles
Nashville forward Colton Sissons and defenseman Roman Josi combined for 11 shots on goal, only one short of matching the output for the Penguins’ entire team.
The Predators were having their way so much that a Nashville fan managed to hurl a catfish halfway across the Pittsburgh ice.
Somehow the Penguins built a 3-0 first-period lead only to allow the Predators to tie it 3-3 on Frederick Gaudreau’s first goal with 6:31 left in regulation.
“You never think you are going to blow a three-goal lead,” said Penguins center Nick Bonino, who scored a pair of goals. “But when we did we knew it was coming. It wasn’t like it snuck up on us. We knew they were coming. We knew we weren’t playing well and then it woke us up and Jake saved us.”
Jake Guentzel scored with a well-placed shot with 3:17 left in regulation. It was the Penguins’ first shot of the third period and ended their long shot drought.
Even though Guentzel leads Pittsburgh with 10 playoff goals, it was his first goal in nine games.
This game will undoubtedly go down as one of the most bizarre games in Stanley Cup Final history.
The Predators lost and yet they may have gained some confidence in knowing they can outplay the Penguins.
“From the way we started and the way we continued on after that, I thought our guys played great.” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought we played a good game. We hate the score. We hate the result. But we’ll move forward.”
It is challenging to explain what happened in this game. More than one Penguins player said he wanted to watch video of the game to determine why they struggled.
It wasn’t as if the Penguins didn’t know they weren’t generating shots on goal.
“Guys are yelling, ‘Shoot. We need to shoot,’ ” Bonino recalled. “It’s tougher than it seems. (The Predators) play pretty much in your face. They make you dump the puck poorly. When they do, (goalie Pekka) Rinne plays it really well. It’s tough to establish a forecheck. It’s tough to get odd-man rushes like that. We’ll watch the tape, look at it. We gave up shots, but not a ton of Grade-A chances. Getting some pressure, but not getting anything to the net, it definitely wears on you a little bit.”
Captain Sidney Crosby said the Penguins didn’t win enough puck battles, and were not strong enough on the puck. Sullivan agreed.
“As a group tonight, we weren’t as good as I think our own expectations are.” Sullivan said. “I think all of our players are very good at self-assessing. So it’s an opportunity for us to learn from it, move by it, make sure we respond the right way.”
The glass half-full thinking is that the Penguins found a way to win a game they should not have won.
“Maybe this is a good thing,” said Sheary, who scored his first goal of the postseason. “They haven’t seen our best yet. Maybe if we come out in Game 2 a little stronger and get to our game we can surprise them.”