Pen­guins learn they can win ugly

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

PITTS­BURGH — They could chuckle about it after­ward be­cause, how­ever ugly, the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins man­aged to come away with a win.

The de­fend­ing champs stole Game 1 of the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal Mon­day af­ter Jake Guentzel broke a 3-3 tie with just over three min­utes left in reg­u­la­tion. The Pen­guins had a 3-0 first pe­riod lead com­pletely un­ravel and failed to gen­er­ate a sin­gle shot for 37 min­utes, in­clud­ing zero in the sec­ond pe­riod.

“It’s not text­book,” Sid­ney Crosby said af­ter a two-as­sist performance in the 5-3 win. “It didn’t feel like it was that long, but stats don’t lie.”

No team had ever gone shot­less in one pe­riod of a Stan­ley Cup fi­nal game since the Na­tional Hockey League be­gan track­ing shots on goal in 1957.

The Pen­guins, who scored more goals and fired more shots than any other team dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, man­aged only 11 shots at Pekka Rinne, beat­ing him four times. Rinne was tasked with a sin­gle shot over the fi­nal 40 min­utes and it was Guentzel’s game-win­ning goal and 10th of the play­offs.

“We weren’t very good,” Pitts­burgh’s head coach Mike Sul­li­van said.

Play­ers were aware of the drought — with the shot-clock stuck at eight — but had no idea it lasted as long as it did. Their strug­gles were es­pe­cially pro­nounced in the sec­ond when the Preds hogged the puck al­most with­out ex­cep­tion and spent shift af­ter shift in the Pitts­burgh zone.

The Pens rarely came close in those 20 min­utes to even land­ing a shot at Rinne, and Nashville even­tu­ally marched all the way back with two power-play goals and a ga­me­ty­ing marker from un­drafted cen­tre Fred­er­ick Gau­dreau.

This kind of sti­fling play isn’t en­tirely un­fa­mil­iar from the Preda­tors, who no­tably swept the Chicago Black­hawks in the first round while al­low­ing a mere three goals.

“It didn’t feel like that at cer­tain points,” Crosby said of the dry spell. “It felt like we were get­ting some de­cent looks and maybe we missed the net or we didn’t quite ex­e­cute on a play.”

Pitts­burgh suc­cess­fully chal­lenged P.K. Sub­ban’s ap­par­ent game-open­ing goal — it was off­side — and then built their lead by strik­ing for three in quick suc­ces­sion, start­ing with a power-play goal from Ev­geni Malkin with two Preds in the box. Conor Sheary in­creased the lead to two 65 sec­onds later, helped by the sec­ond of two as­sists from Crosby.

Nick Bonino added the third on Rinne when he shov­elled an in­no­cent shot on goal with 17 sec­onds left. The 34-year-old made a stick save, but it car­omed right off Mat­tias Ekholm in front and into the back of the net.

That was it for shots on Rinne though un­til Guentzel’s game-win­ner.

Pitts­burgh de­fence­man Ron Hain­sey noted that the Pen­guins ac­tu­ally didn’t give up all that much and, in­deed, even-strength shot at­tempts were just 36-26 favour­ing Nashville with two of the three Preda­tor goals com­ing by way of the power play. What ailed them, in­stead, was how lit­tle they man­aged to gen­er­ate of­fen­sively — save for the back-half of the open­ing pe­riod when they jumped in front.

The Pen­guins have in their home dress­ing room a white­board with a header that says “Right way” and un­der it are sub­head­ers for in­tan­gi­bles and play with and with­out the puck.

Many el­e­ments, such as puck pro­tec­tion, were miss­ing in de­feat.

For the Preda­tors, mean­while, a dom­i­nant ef­fort ended in de­feat.

Three Preds lin­gered in the un­der­belly of PPG Paints Arena after­ward. Filip Fors­berg sat on an ex­er­cise bike as a pair of team­mates leaned against the wall with sullen looks on their faces.

If fall­ing in the opener, Nashville at least demon­strated — for the bet­ter part of three pe­ri­ods — that it might be ca­pa­ble of slow­ing the Pen­guins high-pow­ered at­tack.

“They won the game,” said Preds coach Peter Lavi­o­lette af­ter be­ing in­formed that play­ers from the op­po­si­tion be­lieved they had stolen Game 1. “You know, I’d rather be up 1-0 and hav­ing my guys say we stole (it). It not about that ... Just cuts down our op­por­tu­ni­ties to win four games.”

ERIC CANHA, CAL SPORT ME­DIA/ZUMA PRESS

Nashville Preda­tors Vernon Fid­dler (83) fights to get the puck past Pitts­burgh Pen­guins goalie Matt Mur­ray in Mon­day’s Game 1 of the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

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