Jake Guentzel spent the better part of the last two days wondering if he was going to be a healthy scratch. It was strongly hinted by the coaching staff that with Patric Hornqvist returning to the line-up that it would either be the rookie who was leading the playoffs in goal scoring or veteran Carl Hagelin.
Turns out, as always, Mike Sullivan and the coaching staff made the right call.
Guentzel scored his first goal in 8 games, and his 10th of the post-season to break a 3-3 tie with 3:17 to play in the third. Nick Bonino would go on to secure an empty netter just over two minutes later as the Penguins survived blowing a 3-0 lead and being thoroughly dominated.
Oh, by the way….the Guentzel goal was Pittsburgh first shot on net in over 37 minutes of game play. In fact, the previous ‘shot on net’ was an own goal by a Preds defenseman that was credited to Bonino.
Pittsburgh managed just 12 shots on goal the entire game, eight of those coming in the first, ZERO in the middle period, and four in the third. Nashville stymied the Pens break out in all directions and many ways. Pinching down the wall with defenseman, clogging the middle of the ice, stick checking every chance they got. You name it, the Preds were doing it.
The twelve shots on goal were the fewest recorded during a game in the Cup Finals and had been duplicated three other times. Each of the three other times, that team had lost the game.
In turn the masterful defensive effort led to a lot of zone time and opportunities for Nashville. Pittsburgh, however, would fully take advantage of two plays in the first period to gain some needed momentum.
The first was an apparent goal by PK Subban that was overturned by a coaches challenge for being offsides. Filip Forsberg had his skate off of the ice while straddling the blue line as the puck entered. After Subban deposited his wrist shot, the Pens bench quickly signaled to the ref that they wanted to take another look.
The review turned out in Pittsburgh’s favor and the game remained goal-less. It was a close play and one that could have been argued either way. That call has worked for and against Pittsburgh a number of times over the past couple of years. This one so happened to be in a big spot in a big game.
The next call was former Penguin James Neal showing exactly why he was the one traded by Jim Rutherford as his first move as Pens GM. With a delayed penalty already coming to Nashville for a trip in front of Pekka Rinne, Neal went into business for himself and took a blatant and selfish cross checking penalty to make it a five on three for a full two minutes.
After not being able to set up on the two-man advantage, eventually Trevor Daley and Evgeni Malkin would switch positions up high and Malkin would blast a one-timer that glanced off of Rinne’s glove and over the line for the series’ opening goal.
The Pens would ride that momentum for the next several minutes and strike two more times.
First was Connor Sheary, after making a play in along the boards in the far corner of the Nashville zone, Sheary would circle around without the puck and be left all alone at the back door of Rinne’s crease. Chris Kunitz would make a beautiful, almost no-look pass to Sheary who one timed it into a WIDE open net for a 2-0 lead.
The next goal could have been the back breaker and opened the flood gates to a rout. With under a minute to play in the first. Bonino drove down the near side with a defenseman draped on him. In a desperation move, Bonino shoveled the puck to the front of the net and on to Rinne. The Nashville goalie played the puck with a poke-check and it ended up hitting off of Preds D-man Mattias Ekholm in the butt and going in.
So in a matter of 4:11 the Penguins looked to be in a dominant position. Nashville however would respond in kind over the last forty minutes.
In addition to holding the Pens without a shot in the second, Ryan Ellis scored a power play goal mid-way through the period and you felt and knew that more was coming, even if the Pens held a 3-1 lead afterwards.
Sure enough, and it took a while but Nashville would do just that. Malkin would take a poorly timed slashing call at 9:36 of the third, and thirty seconds later Colton Sissions made Murray fish one out of his net, drawing the Preds within one goal.
Fredrick Gaudreau would complete the comeback just over three minutes later. It was at this point that you were in disbelief that the Pens were about to blow a game in the Stanley Cup Finlas in which they had a three goal lead on home ice. You waited for that inevitable fourth goal against and anticipated an avalanche of angst until Game two on Wednesday. James Neal hitting the post flush a minute later almost confirmed that it would be a matter of time.
But then, Roman Josi turns a puck over in neutral ice. It results in a quick odd man break the other way. Ryan Ellis backs down against Guentzel instead of taking his space. Guentzel uses him as a screen for a shot and…..
Short side, over the glove hand, Rinne never moved or saw it until it was too late.
Some one totally called this goal on the twitter side, by the way. (Pats self on the back)
It would be hilarious if the Pens next shot went in….
— Pitt Sports Castle (@pitsportscastle) May 30, 2017
Add the Bones empty netter and turn out the lights.
Murray finished the game with 23 saves, two of the three goals against him were on the power play. Both calls against Malkin and Ian Cole were just dumb penalties and can be easily avoided.
So let’s turn the tables a bit before I sign off. everyone is focusing on how poorly Pittsburgh played…..make no mistake….they were bad for 50 minutes of this game.
They were beat to every puck, that is not a talent problem, that is a hustle problem and it will be better going forward.
Game Six of the Washington Series and Game Three of the Sens series, both times the Penguins looked similar to what they did Monday. what happened each tome after? Against the Caps, the Pens shut them out 2-0 in Game Seven and against the Sens, they woke up and won three of the next four games. It’s almost like Pittsburgh needs a rude wake up call and then they snap in to shape. You can guarantee that for Game Two and beyond.
Nashville does not have the offensive fire power that the Caps had, so while the long stretches of play in the Pittsburgh zone were concerning, remember they only scored one goal at 5 on 5 play.
Pekka Rinne gave up 4 goals on 11 shots. that’s brutal. for being a top goalie in the league, Rinne is now 0-6-2 against Pittsburgh when he is the starter in net. His goals against is approaching four a game. Those are not good numbers no matter how you slice it.
If this was Nashville’s best game (and it’s hard to imagine them playing much better). And this was Pittsburgh’s worst game (and it’s hard to imagine them playing much worse). The Pens STILL scored five goals, and won by two. Nashville is in trouble provided the Penguins start using their legs and making better decisions and passes in their own zone.
That being said, if Ollia Maatta and Ron Hainsey are finding time as a D pair moving forward, that will be a huge mistake.
Game two is Wednesday night again from PPGPA. I will have your live twitter fun during the game, and have your recap again on Thursday morning.
Thanks, as always for reading and Let’s Go Pens.