Skip to main content
Stanley Cup Final

Opportunistic Jake Guentzel lifts Penguins to Game 1 victory

Rookie forward gets limited minutes, scores winner vs. Predators to end eight-game goal drought

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Somebody on the Pittsburgh Penguins had to get a shot on goal eventually.

Why not Jake Guentzel?

The rookie forward didn't have a single shot attempt in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators before he got the puck on his stick and entered the offensive zone with speed late in the third period at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coverage | Cotsonika: Penguins realize they must improve after Game 1 win]

 

The leading goal-scorer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs also hadn't scored in the previous eight games. There was even a whisper of a thought that he could be scratched for Game 1.

But on an odd night when goals were getting disallowed and going in off opponent's knees, when up seemed to be down, east seemed to be west, and there was no north-south game at all for the Penguins, Guentzel decided why not me and why not now.

The Penguins defeated the Predators 5-3 and lead the best-of-7 series because he did.

Using the space he got because of the speed he had after getting the puck from center Matt Cullen, Guentzel wristed a perfect shot over goalie Pekka Rinne's glove at 16:43 of the third period. It was the Penguins' first shot on goal in 37 minutes. They didn't need another one.

"Obviously it's tough sometimes, but you've just got to stick with it," Guentzel said. "Came at the right time tonight."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Guentzel snipes late go-ahead goal

Guentzel has 10 goals in the playoffs, the most by a United States-born rookie in a single postseason since Jeremy Roenick scored 11 for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1990. Dino Ciccarelli scored 14 for the Minnesota North Stars in 1981, the most ever by a rookie.

Guentzel was born in 1994. It felt like it had been that long since he scored.

"To see him break through with that, to get that one opportunity and put it in, was pretty special," said Penguins forward Conor Sheary, who also scored his first goal in 17 playoff games in Game 1. "We just needed one play, and that's what we got from Jake."

Guentzel never seemed to get down on himself throughout his eight-game scoring drought. That has a lot to do with the chances he was getting. He hit the post on multiple occasions. He missed the net on several other wide-open chances.

"You can take it as a positive that you're getting chances," Guentzel said. "You're on the net."

Considering he scored nine goals on 24 shots (37.5 percent) in the first 11 playoff games, a scoring drought seemed inevitable. Nobody continues to score nearly a goal per game shooting at that high of a percentage for an entire playoff run. Guentzel was no different.

However, the troublesome part for coach Mike Sullivan was how Guentzel's game was trending throughout the seven-game Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators.

For example, Guentzel was the only Penguins player who didn't have either a point or a shot on goal in their 7-0 win in Game 5. He had no points in the last three games.

"He was playing heavy minutes," Sullivan said. "When you're playing on [Sidney Crosby's] line, there's obviously an expectation to produce offensively."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Guentzel, Bonino on Pens' Game 1 win

Guentzel was moved off Crosby's line in the second period of Game 7, when he played a Penguins-low 13:59 in a double-overtime game. That was his lowest ice time of the postseason, until Monday.

Guentzel played 11:52 on the fourth line in Game 1.

"We felt in the last series that he might have been wearing down a little bit," Sullivan said. "The coaching staff was trying to be proactive and trying to find ways to maybe cut his minutes a little bit so that we would get more productive minutes from him. Quite honestly, to take a little bit of pressure off him. But by no means did we lose faith. We know he's a good player. He's a high-quality player."

Sullivan spent time going over Guentzel's game with him in the past week, including trying to coach him up, keep him positive.

"Jake and I have had a few discussions here over the last week about just the coaches' assessment, trying to help him work through some of the challenges, like we do with all of our players," Sullivan said. "He's a real good player. He gets a great goal for us tonight. I think that's an indication of the type of player that he is and his capability. But certainly I think he's a guy that we know we can rely on here to help us win games."

He did it Monday, scoring on what at the time seemed like an improbable shot because it seemed like the Penguins would never get another one with the way they were playing.

In fact, Pierre McGuire noted on NBC's broadcast after the goal that before Guentzel came on the ice to score Sullivan yelled on the bench, "Is somebody on this team going to get a puck on goal?"

Why not the player who hadn't scored in eight straight games? Why not the player who hadn't shot the puck all night? Why not Guentzel?

"For him to come out and get a big goal like that was huge," Crosby said. "It wasn't our best game, but he stepped up and came through for us."

View More