PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.
They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.
Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.
Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.
Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.
"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.
The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.
Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.
Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.
All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.
The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.
Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.
Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.
"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.
It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.
Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.
Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.
Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.
No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.
Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.
"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."
Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Who would be a better fit for the Flyers, Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier?
I don’t believe either one would necessarily be a better fit than the other for the Flyers. This is a case where either player matches what the orange and black need: a top-six centerman. It’s safe to say with either Hischier or Patrick, they will come away from Chicago with a substantial piece they can add to their puzzle. I’ve felt they needed another lottery forward.
They’re getting one now, but which player would I prefer to see as a Flyer? That would be Patrick because, for me, he’s the safer bet who is closer to the NHL than Hischier. Now, I don’t believe the Flyers should draft based on who will be here quicker. That would be asinine. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to see either one of them in Philadelphia next season.
Patrick has been atop the rankings for this class for two years now. He dominated the WHL as a 17-year-old two years ago, and despite injuries last season, he still ruled play. Plus it’s hard not to be enamored with Patrick’s size. At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he’s a big right-handed pivot. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds. He’ll have to get stronger.
That’s not saying Patrick doesn’t need to add more muscle to his frame, but at 6-3, 198, he has a solid frame that should be able to handle the wear-and-tear of an NHL season. Sure, he does have some durability questions, but it’s not to the Joel Embiid level of concern.
Both players play a solid 200-foot game, which is something GM Ron Hextall preaches. Neither is deficient in his own zone. Patrick is more of a physical player than Hischier. The Brandon center has a solid combination of speed, power and skill, which is attractive.
Hischier has many of the same traits as Patrick, but he’s the flashier of the two. Ultimately, this is a discussion for the Devils more than the Flyers. New Jersey has to decide which one they want, and then the Flyers get the other. From afar, Hischier seems more of a fit to what the Devils need and factor in his rise over the last few months, I think he’ll be a Devil.
And that means Patrick will be a Flyer. Which is perfectly fine with me.
If I had to pick, I think the Flyers need more of a player like Hischier than Patrick.
The good thing is they can't go wrong with either 18-year-old.
Hischier seems to come with a higher ceiling offensively and greater potential to put up star numbers at the center position. The playmaking ability is what changes games and the teams that score are the teams that win.
"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Cam Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, said (see story). "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck."
What's really appealing about Patrick is you know what you're getting: a proven two-way center that focuses on defense just as much as offense. He'll bring everything to the table and he looks to be the safer pick.
He has "elite" potential, too, in his own right.
"He won't let anybody down," Grant Armstrong, the general manager of Patrick's junior club, the Brandon Wheat Kings, said (see story). "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league."
So, the Flyers are in an excellent spot. I'd like to see Hischier fall to the Flyers, but Patrick should excite fans, as well.
And the funny thing is the Flyers won't have to decide between the two.
Let's get this part out of the way before I go deeper into this question: both Patrick and Hischier are great fits for the Flyers.
Both are impact forwards who should be able to help sooner rather than later. And with the way the Flyers struggled offensively last season, that's just what the doctor ordered. So they really can't go wrong here and, as I said on Sunday, I do feel it comes down to simplest terms as the Flyers should take whomever New Jersey doesn't out of Patrick and Hischier.
But this question is about the better fit between the two.
Let's think about it this way: We all have a bunch of t-shirts that fit, but we all have that one t-shirt that fits just right. And when we're in a pinch and need something to wear, we always go back to that t-shirt that fits just right.
And the "just right" fit here for the Flyers is Hischier.
The guy just brings an energy to the ice when you see him play. He has a dynamic way to him that when you watch him play, your eyes are just drawn to him. So many times last season the Flyers seemed so lethargic and slogged through periods and games. They needed an energy boost. Hischier can help bring that needed jolt.
On top of that, the high offensive ceiling for Hischier has to appeal to the Flyers, as Jordan said above. That's just what they need. Nothing against Patrick, seen as more of the two-way player. But the two-way center has been the Flyers' preferred way of thinking for so long now. Nothing against a two-way center, but the Flyers need more of a dynamic, playmaking center and Hischier is that. It's time for something different.
The Flyers are going to get a darn good player at No. 2 no matter what, but Hischier is the better fit here and now.