By Chris Gordon
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins won the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday with a dominating performance over the Nashville Predators. They controlled play almost the whole night, going up 3-0 before the first period was over. The Predators managed a power play goal midway through the second frame, but that was all they got. It’s clear Pittsburgh is heading for a quick series win after finishing off Nashville 5-3 in Game One.
“We got a favorable result tonight,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.
But there is one small problem: the first paragraph is a lie, save for the score.
Pittsburgh went without a shot on goal for over 37 of the 60 minutes played, including the entire second period. That is the first time a team has gone without a SOG in a period in the Final since the league began tracking shots during the 1957-58 season. After the game, the Pens were kicking themselves when speaking to reporters in their circular locker room.
“We’ve gotta find a way to create some opportunities because we didn’t have very much tonight,” Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz said. “We were prepared. We knew what to expect. It’s just a matter of going out there and executing.”
The game stats were a horror show for the Penguins. Shot attempts were 46-28 in favor of the Predators as Nashville controlled the puck and play. The final tally of shots on goal was a cringe inducing 26-12.
“We weren’t very good,” Sullivan 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.”
But this is hockey, played on a 200 foot sheet of ice with six ounces of rubber which is batted around by guys trying to smash each other into next week. The best team sometimes loses. On Monday night, the Penguins scored goals off Predators players, deflections, and near saves by Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.
“We love hockey because it’s fun,” Associated Press hockey writer Steve Whyno wrote on Twitter. “But man is it stupid.”
The Washington Capitals know all about this. Despite consistently outshooting the Penguins, the Capitals went down 3-1 in their second round series before losing Game Seven on home ice.
“Guys are yelling, ‘Shoot!’ We need to shoot!” Pens forward Nick Bonino, who scored two goals in Game One, said. “It’s tougher than it seems.”
Nevertheless, the Penguins, who finished 17 points ahead of Predators despite playing in a much tougher division, are now one game closer to winning the Stanley Cup for the second straight year.
“They got the win tonight,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said, resigned, when asked if the Penguins stole a game. “It just cuts down our opportunities to win four games. Next game will be important for us.”
Since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, the team that wins Game One of Final have gone on to win 78 percent of the time. But to a man, the Penguins refuse to take solace in that.
“What I love about our group is, we got a favorable result tonight, but we know that we need to be much better in order to continue to get to where we want to go,” Sullivan said. “None of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight.”
Added Penguins captain Sidney Crosby: “It’s not textbook.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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