May 30, 2017 / 3:40 AM / 2 years ago

Late goals lift Penguins in Stanley Cup Final opener

Late goals lift Penguins in Stanley Cup Final opener

PITTSBURGH — Rookie Jake Guentzel’s goal was so big that he ended two droughts with one shot, and he did it in a huge setting.

Guentzel scored a tiebreaking goal with 3:17 left on Monday night to help the Pittsburgh Penguins earn a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena.

Guentzel’s goal, from the right dot using a screen in front of Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, ended an incredible stretch of 37:09 with no shots by the Penguins, going back to the first period.

Nick Bonino’s empty-netter, his second goal of the game, ended the scoring with 1:02 remaining.

Guentzel was well aware that Rinne might have been a bit rusty after not being tested by Pittsburgh.

“He hadn’t faced a shot in a while, so you’re just trying to get a shot on net,” Guentzel said.

Guentzel’s goal came after Nashville erased a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead. The 22-year-old Nebraska native scored his playoff-leading 10th goal, although he snapped a personal eight-game drought.

“He continues to get chances,” said Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who along with Chris Kunitz had two assists.

“They get one to tie it up after we have a lead like that. For him to come out and get a big goal like that was huge. Wasn’t our best game, but he stepped up and came through for us.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.

Pittsburgh was outshot 26-12 — it had no shots in the second period and for most of the third — but goaltender Matt Murray stopped 23 of the Predators’ attempts.

Rinne allowed four goals on 11 shots, the fourth time in the past six games he has allowed three or more even though he entered the Final with a playoff-best 1.70 goals-against average.

“I thought we outplayed them, I really did,” Nashville’s P.K. Subban said. “Just being honest, I thought we did a lot of things well.”

Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Bonino scored in the first for Pittsburgh before Ryan Ellis broke through for Nashville in the second to make it 3-1.

A shot by Nashville’s Roman Josi glanced in off teammate Colton Sissons for a power-play goal at 10:06 of the third to cut the lead to 3-2.

At that point, Pittsburgh had no shots since the first period, and that continued through a Penguins power play.

Just after the power play ended, Nashville’s Austin Watson carried the puck behind the Pittsburgh net and fed Frederick Gaudreau for a one-timer in front that went under Murray’s pads for a 3-3 tie at 13:29.

Getting shots on Rinne became Pittsburgh’s mission.

“We knew for sure,” Bonino said of the drought. “You look up the whole second period, you don’t get a shot. Guys are yelling, ‘Shoot. We need to shoot.’”

Crosby even sent a mental plea to the off-ice officials who tally shots.

“You start to wonder, did you get a piece of that? Or maybe the guy up there can give us at least one,” Crosby said, smiling.

“It’s just one of those nights where, for whatever reason, we got them blocked or missed the net. We didn’t generate enough (offensive) zone time consistently.”

The Penguins got a break after it appeared that Subban gave Nashville a 1-0 lead at 7:13 of the first period on a shot from the top of the right circle. Pittsburgh challenged, however, and it was ruled upon review that Filip Forsberg was offside preceding the shot.

“We were a bit sloppy from the start,” Crosby said. “Our start’s something we’ve got to do a better job with, but the way we were able to regroup was good. We seemed to get some life from (the overturned goal).”

At 15:32, Malkin gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead during a five-on-three power play. His shot from the top of the slot glided just over Rinne’s left pad. It was Malkin’s playoff-leading 25th point.

Just 1:05 later, Sheary had an open net behind Rinne for a tap-in near the right post on a pinpoint feed from Kunitz for a 2-0 Penguins lead. It was the first goal of the postseason for Sheary, who struggled enough that he was scratched twice during the Eastern Conference final.

Pittsburgh got an even bigger break with 16.1 seconds left in the first when Rinne stopped a shot by Bonino, only to have the rebound hit Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm’s leg and bounce into the net to make it 3-0.

That gave the Penguins three goals on eight first-period shots. The Predators had allowed only five first-period goals through its first 16 playoff games.

“There’s a lot of positives (from the game), but at the same time personally I have to do a better job,” Rinne said.

The Predators’ comeback, only to lose, had coach Peter Laviolette feeling for Rinne.

“It’s tough. He’s been a rock for us,” Laviolette said. “The five-on-three goal was tough ... the redirect off our defenseman, there’s really no challenge on that.”

NOTES: Pittsburgh RW Patric Hornqvist (upper-body injury) returned after missing six games. He replaced LW Carl Hagelin, who was scratched. ... Nashville C Mike Fisher, the only Predator with Stanley Cup Final experience, returned to the lineup after leaving Game 4 of the previous round because of a knee to the head. The Nashville captain logged two assists Monday. ... Predators RW Craig Smith (lower-body injury) played for the first time since May 7. ... Nashville LW Colin Wilson was a late scratch because of an unspecified injury. ... Someone threw a dead catfish onto the ice early in the second period.

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