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Stanley Cup Final

Predators must be great, not good, to defeat Penguins

Nashville outplayed, outshot Pittsburgh, lost Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Here is the problem for the Nashville Predators and the lesson from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final:

You can outplay the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can outshoot them by double digits. You can feel good about your game. And you can walk out of the rink shaking your head, wondering how the heck you lost and what you need to do next.

The Predators lost the game, 5-3 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday, even though they held the Penguins without a shot for 37 minutes and outshot them 26-12. The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverageCoach's analysis: Predators should be encouraged entering Game 2]

 

"We hate the score," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. "Don't necessarily hate the way we played."

Consider this, though, entering Game 2 here on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports): The Penguins have won eight times when outshot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, most among the 16 teams. They're 5-1 when outshot by 10 or more.

Some of that is because of the Penguins sitting on leads and their opponents pushing to come back, skewing the shot totals. It certainly was a factor in Game 1. The Penguins took a 3-0 lead with 16.1 seconds left in the first period and didn't put another shot on net until Jake Guentzel made it 4-3 with 3:17 left in the third.

"We got the lead and didn't generate much," Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "Period. The end."

But the Penguins showed in the first two rounds of the playoffs they can lose the possession battle and win anyway because of goaltending, shot blocking, counterattacking and opportunistic scoring. They showed they could make great goaltenders look bad.

Video: Cotsonika and Rosen preview Game 2 of Cup Final

They were outshot 11 times in 12 games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals, two of the top four teams in the NHL in the regular season. Each forechecked and kept them in their end a lot. Didn't matter.

Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2013 and is a finalist this season, had an .882 save percentage in five games. Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who won the Vezina last season and is a finalist this season, had a .887 save percentage in seven.

The Eastern Conference Final was different. The Penguins played the Ottawa Senators, who used a trapping system, and outshot them five times in seven games. But Game 1 of the Final echoed the first two rounds in some ways.

The Penguins struggled with the Predators forecheck. They didn't spend enough time in the offensive zone. But when the game was tied at 3-3 late in the third period, they forced a turnover in the neutral zone, got a chance on the rush and got the winning goal.

One shot in 37 minutes, and they capitalized.

Video: Guentzel's late goal lifts Pens past Preds in Game 1

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who entered the series with a .941 save percentage, best among goaltenders who had played more than five games, allowed four goals on 11 shots. His .636 save percentage was the worst in a playoff game by a goaltender who played at least 50 minutes in the expansion era.

The Predators can point to calls and bounces. They had a goal called back after video review for a razor-thin offside, got called for a penalty when a guy fell down on his own, didn't get a whistle when Penguins center Sidney Crosby knocked down defenseman Mattias Ekholm 10 seconds before Penguins center Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0 on a 5-on-3, and fell behind 3-0 when a puck went in off Ekholm's leg.

"Just didn't go our way," Laviolette said. "I don't think we were rattled."

They can accentuate the positive.

"For the most part we did a lot of good things," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "If we play that way every night, we'll hopefully like the result in the end."

All of that is fair and true.

Video: Reaction to Stanley Cup Final Game 1

But for all the negative things out of their control, some were in their control. Forward James Neal crosschecked Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley during a delayed penalty, resulting in the 5-on-3 that led to Malkin's goal. Defenseman Yannick Weber failed to clear the zone before the Penguins made it 2-0. Defenseman Roman Josi committed the turnover that led to Guentzel's goal. Rinne should have stopped two of the four goals against -- Malkin's shot from the slot, which he saw all the way and ticked off the bottom of his glove, and Guentzel's shot from the right circle, which whizzed over his left shoulder as he dropped into a butterfly.

The Predators have to keep doing what they did in Game 1 but at a higher level. They don't want to sound like the Blue Jackets and Capitals did after their series.

"We know we can play better ourselves still," Laviolette said. "It's one of those situations where if it was good, it wasn't good enough. We've got to get wins. We have to find a way to cut out one of those goals or create one more scoring chance. Such a game of inches right now."

It often is against the Penguins.

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