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Penguins overcome rotten effort in Game 1, just keep winning

PITTSBURGH – It was a mess, only a part of the whole it should have been. Barely crossing the blue line. Gutty, but ultimately rancid.

But enough about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense during 37 shot-less minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1, let’s talk about that catfish that hit the ice …

Just kidding. Let’s talk about the Penguins’ offense. Because it was rotten fish stinky.

“We weren’t very good. You know … we weren’t very good,” said coach Mike Sullivan, whose team, again, went 37 minutes without a shot on goal on Monday night. In fact, the Penguins set a Stanley Cup Final record by failing to register a shot on goal in the second period.

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“You look up, and the whole second period you don’t get a shot. Guys were yelling ‘shoooooot!’” said center Nick Bonino.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was hoping a shot attempt nicked goalie Pekka Rinne, or perhaps that Pittsburgh could get some home ice advantage. “Maybe the [official scorer] up there can give us at least one,” he said.

And yet, after that record drought, after a 3-0 lead was squandered at home, after the Predators came roaring back and controlled play, the Penguins won the damn game, 5-3, to take a 1-0 series lead.

“Yeah, it’s not textbook,” said Crosby. “We’ve got some things to improve on.”

Everyone had a theory about those 37 minutes without a shot.

Defenseman Ron Hainsey felt the Penguins were too content after establishing a 3-0 lead following the first period, a stretch so dominating that a Predators fan in the crowd randomly discharged their catfish over the glass in the second period, perhaps fearing that they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity.

Sullivan agreed that the Penguins didn’t leave the dressing room with the requisite fire.

“We had a discussion in between periods about staying on our toes, playing the game the right way, making sure that we don’t try to sit on the lead or defend the lead, that we try to go out and get the next goal,” he said. “This team usually, for the most part, is pretty good at making sure that we’re continuing to play the game the right way. Tonight wasn’t the case. We just weren’t very good.”

Then there’s the feeling out process that happens in a Game 1. The Penguins, to a man, were impressed with the Predators’ depth and aggressive defense. “They work really hard. Every line plays pretty similar. Their ‘D’ joins the rush in almost every situation. It forces us to backtrack and take guys,” said Crosby.

The Predators were also short-circuiting the Penguins’ forecheck, thanks in part to the puck-handling skills of their goalie Pekka Rinne.

“They make you dump the puck poorly, and then Rinne plays it really well,” said Bonino.

Whatever the diagnosis, two facts remain. The first is that rookie Jake Guentzel’s goal at 16:43 of the third period – on the Penguins’ first shot on goal since their last goal in the first period – beat Rinne and led to the 5-3 victory.

“We were just kind of throwing pucks in the net there. Fortunate to go in,” said Guentzel.

“It think you’re just hoping to get a shot on net and see what happens. But that might have been the best look we had in 37 minutes,” said Crosby.

The second fact is that the Penguins showed, once again, that they can pull a victory out of the most dead-fish of performances.

There have been times during this postseason run for the defending Stanley Cup champions when they’ve been thoroughly out-possessed and outplayed by an opponent. The Penguins sit back and wait for someone to counterpunch, wait for one of their clutch skill players to find a way to break through.

Wait for the seemingly inevitable victory, like the one in Game 1.

“We found a way. So the real challenge is how we bounce back and improve,” said Crosby.

Does it matter?

This team went 37 minutes without a shot, and blew a three-goal lead, and is still up 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.

We can talk all night about sustainability and playing with fire and being lucky to win with 12 shots on goal and all of it, but the fact remains: You won the damn game, Sidney Crosby. Again.

“You still have to get better. I don’t know if we’re saying the same thing if Jake doesn’t get that goal, about [us] being a championship team if we give up a three-goal lead [and lose], right?” he said.

And that, in the end, is why they’re the defending champions, with a chance to repeat: Victory is the expectation, but not validation.

“In some ways, are we certainly pleased with the result? Yes,” said Sullivan. “But also, I think we trust the leadership of the group that we have, that they get it. They understand. They know we weren’t at our best.”

Photo by Jeffler

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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Predators remain positive despite Game 1 loss

PITTSBURGH, PA – MAY 29: head coach Peter Laviolette of the Nashville Predators looks on from the bench during the first period in Game One of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on May 29, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – The mood inside the Nashville Predators dressing room after their 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was one of confidence.

They weren’t deflated. There was no ruing of missed opportunities. Instead, they looked at the totality of Game 1 and felt good, even if they weren’t on the right side of the final score and now trail for the first time in a series this postseason.

“We really didn’t feel it was a 3-0 game,” said Predators forward Colton Sissons. “Obviously we had that disallowed goal, that sucked, and then they took momentum and scored a few quick ones. The one was a lucky bounce, but we never gave up. We just said we need to rally; win the second period; win the third, and unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”

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History says losing the first game of the Cup Final doesn’t bode well. Since the NHL went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, teams that take Game 1 have won the series 78 percent of the time. But watching the game Monday night, it’s not hard to believe the Penguins were fortunate to come out on top. Nashville dominated possession (58 percent Corsi, via Natural Stat Trick) and their strong defensive play was able to limit Pittsburgh to just 12 shots on goal, which was helped by a shot drought that lasted 37 minutes.

“There’s some things that we’ve got to clean up. Obviously, being down 3-0 against the Stanley Cup champions, coming back, tying it up 3-3 and having an opportunity to win the hockey game is definitely something to build on,” said defenseman P.K. Subban. “At the end of the day, we had an opportunity to be up 1-0 in the series. We’re not, so we’ve just got to re-group now and get ready for the next game.

“As far as the way we played, when we’re going, as you can see, the ice tilts in our favor. We’ve just got to continue to do that.”

Even Carrie Underwood is on board with that kind of positive thinking.

The @PredsNHL should not feel bad tonight!…they dominated this game! Things just didn’t go our way… ????????you guys!!! ????

— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) May 30, 2017

Subban put Nashville up 1-0 early in the game, but his goal was called back after an offside review. Minutes later the Penguins’ offense erupted for three goals in a 4:11 span, a hole that the Predators knew they could climb out of considering how much time remained and how good they felt in their game.

That lost Subban goal and Pittsburgh’s three-goal barrage didn’t dampen any spirits on the Nashville bench. They kept Matt Murray busy and weren’t discouraged by their lack of breakthroughs. After the first period, their dressing room was calm with no overreactions to the scoreline.

They ultimately fell short, but the attitude coming out of Game 1 will go a long way to helping Nashville try to leave Pittsburgh with a split in the series.

“That’s hockey. That’s just what it is,” Subban said. “If we play the way we did today minus some of the mistakes that we made, I like our chances. We’ll be better next game, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’re going to want to be better. For us, we’re just going to take the positives out of this game and get ready for the next one. This is going to be a long series.”

– – – – – – –

Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Penguins win Game 1 after going 37 minutes without shot

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins went exactly 37 minutes without a shot on goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Jake Guentzel broke the drought. And won the game.

Guentzel’s shot at 16:43 of the third period gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead over the Nashville Predators, and eventually the win in Game 1 on Monday night.

The Predators had absolutely dominated puck possession after the 19:43 mark of the first period, when the Penguins scored to make it 3-0. They rallied with three goals to tie it, but lost the game 5-3, as Nick Bonino added an empty netter.

Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

The Predators thought they had a 1-0 lead in the first Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history, as P.K. Subban blasted a shot that beat Matt Murray at 7:13 of the first period.

But the Penguins bench challenged the goal, claiming the play was offside. The coach’s challenge video review confirmed that forward Filip Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone.

Instead, it was Pittsburgh going up 1-0 at 15:32 of the first period on the power play.

James Neal was given a minor for cross-checking Trevor Daley, while Calle Jarnkrok was given a phantom interference call on Patric Hornqvist. Evgeni Malkin’s blast from the top of the zone gave them the lead.

It was 2-0 at 16:37, as Conor Sheary scored his first of the postseason.

That was Chris Kunitz, hero of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, snapping a pass to Sheary for the one-timer goal.

Nick Bonino made it 3-0 on an own-goal by the Predators’ Mattias Ekholm.

Ouch.

The Predators limped back to the dressing room down 3-0, but got one back on the power play thanks to a Ryan Ellis blast.

That was goal No. 5 on the playoffs for Ellis, at 8:21.

The Predators then dominated possession. Completely dominated. The Penguins went the entire second period without a shot.

The Predators’ domination finally paid off midway through the third period, after Subban drew a slashing penalty on Malkin. Colton Scissons, whose hat trick powered the Predators to their Game 6 win over the Anaheim Ducks to win the West, cashed in to make it 3-2.

 

That was Neal, the former Penguin, crashing into Murray at the end of the play.

The Penguins, still without a shot since the first period, went on the power play later in the third, after a delay of game call on P.K. Subban for putting the puck over the glass.

Instead, it was the Predators tying the game, thanks to a remarkable shorthanded effort from forward Austin Watson.

 

Watson crashed the boards and took the puck away from two Penguins, skated around the net and fed Frederick Gaudreau for the shorthanded goal, his first career playoff goal.

The Predators continued to dominate puck possession. The Penguins knew they needed just one good shot to turn the game around.

Jake Guentzel delivered it for his 10th of the playoffs; and, in the process, Game 1.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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