Pen­guins sur­vive scare in Game 1 of NHL fi­nal

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JASON MACKEY

PITTS­BURGH — A fan-flung cat­fish was the most threat­en­ing thing Nashville Preda­tors goal­tender Pekka Rinne saw dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod Mon­day night. For much of the third, too. The squishy mass went splat at the blue line — and thank­fully no­body wor­ried about chal­leng­ing whether it was off­side.

While the mo­ment was funny, it told part of the story of Mon­day’s 5-3 Pitts­burgh Pen­guins win in Game 1 of the NHL’s Stan­ley Cup fi­nal at PPG Paints Arena.

The Pen­guins nearly blew a 3-0 lead, one com­pounded by an aw­ful of­fen­sive ef­fort in the mid­dle part of the game, be­fore Jake Guentzel saved it with a goal at 16:43 of the third pe­riod.

Game 2 is back here on Wed­nes­day, and here’s a stat to re­mem­ber: Which­ever team wins Game 1 in the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal marches to vic­tory 78 per cent of the time.

Af­ter Nick Bonino scored at 19:43 of the first, the Pen­guins did not regis­ter an­other shot on goal un­til Guentzel scored on a wris­ter from the right cir­cle, a fab­u­lous tran­si­tion play from Matt Cullen.

A pri­mary part of the Pen­guins’ prob­lem was the overuse of stretch passes. It’s not typ­i­cal for a Mike Sul­li­van-coached team, and the results weren’t good.

The Pen­guins may have wanted to avoid dump-ins be­cause of Rinne’s abil­ity to play the puck, but how they went about do­ing that will likely merit at­ten­tion at Tues­day’s prac­tice.

They also looked like the more tired team. Nashville had en­joyed six days off to three for the Pen­guins be­tween con­fer­ence fi­nals. Pen­guins play­ers down­played the rest fac­tor, but the Preda­tors had more de­ter­mi­na­tion for much of this one.

Bonino con­trib­uted his sec­ond goal of the game, an empty-net­ter, at 18:58 of the third, to let the Pen­guins breathe eas­ier, a nar­row es­cape some­how ex­e­cuted.

It’s hard to imag­ine the Pen­guins en­joy­ing a bet­ter open­ing pe­riod, al­though it didn’t start out that way. Mo­men­tum flipped with an off­side re­view at 7:13.

P.K. Sub­ban ap­peared to score with a wris­ter from atop the right cir­cle, but Pen­guins video coach Andy Saucier saw some­thing and Sul­li­van chal­lenged.

Turned out that Filip Fors­berg was in­deed off­side, his right skate pick­ing up be­fore he re­ceived the puck, and the goal was taken off the board.

The Pen­guins’ in­flux of of­fence started with a pair of penal­ties on Preda­tors at 13:50. En­joy­ing a fiveon-three ad­van­tage, Ev­geni Malkin blasted a point shot past Rinne at 15:32.

Guentzel, who looked like he’d be a healthy scratch based on Sun­day’s prac­tice, pro­vided a screen in front, while Crosby knocked down Preda­tors de­fence­man Mat­tias Ekholm to win a puck bat­tle be­hind the net.

An­other mul­ti­ple-player ef­fort led to the Pen­guins’ sec­ond goal.

Conor Sheary scored it, at 16:37, his first of the play­offs and first of the post-sea­son.

Chris Ku­nitz, who scored the dou­ble-over­time win­ner in Game 7 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal to push the Pen­guins to this point, faked Rinne and dished to Sheary, camped out near the right post.

The Pen­guins failed to record a shot on goal in the sec­ond pe­riod. They at­tempted just six shots in the pe­riod.

BRUCE BEN­NETT, GETTY IMAGES

Pen­guins’ Trevor Da­ley, left, helps Ev­geni Malkin cel­e­brate his goal dur­ing the first pe­riod in Game 1 of the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal against the Nashville Preda­tors at PPG Paints Arena in Pitts­burgh on Mon­day night.

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