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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins realize they must improve after Game 1 win against Predators

Pittsburgh shows its championship mettle following, not during, victory in opener of Stanley Cup Final

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

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't show their championship mettle during their 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.

They showed it afterward.

The defending champions weren't suckered into thinking they won because of character or composure or experience or any of the other qualities we love to celebrate in hockey, especially this time of year.

They were lucky to take a 3-0 lead. Then they went 37 minutes without a shot -- including the first period without a shot in the Final since the NHL started tracking the statistic in 1957-58 -- and watched the Predators tie the game 3-3.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Opportunistic Jake Guentzel lifts Penguins to Game 1 victory]

 

With 4:22 left in the third period, Predators forward James Neal spun low in the right circle and shot the puck past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray's left shoulder. Had that puck gone in the net, maybe we're talking about an epic Pittsburgh collapse. But it rang off the crossbar. Forward Jake Guentzel scored the winning goal -- his first goal in nine games, on the Penguins' first shot since late in the first period -- 1:05 later.

Captain Sidney Crosby was asked about the Penguins' championship mettle. He sort of smiled.

"I don't know if we're saying the same thing if Jake doesn't get that goal," Crosby said.

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

The Penguins were outshot 26-12.

"We were kind of stuck there for a little bit with not getting shots and things like that, but we found a way," Crosby said. "So I think the real test, the real challenge, will be that we bounce back and that we improve and how we're better."

Game 2 is here on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"I think they outplayed us for most of the night," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "We can't expect to win if we play like that."

Let's face it: The Penguins came within a whisker of falling behind 1-0; a coach's challenge and lengthy video review wiped out a goal by Predators defenseman P.K. Subban for an incredibly close offside. Forward Filip Forsberg picked up his skate a split second before receiving a pass at the blue line.

Video: Situation Room: Subban's goal overturned after review

The Penguins were fortunate to get a 5-on-3 power play when forward Patric Hornqvist fell in front of Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok, who went off for interference, and Neal cross-checked Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley during the delayed penalty.

The Predators were leading in shots 7-3 at that point. They didn't allow a shot for 1:42 of the two-man advantage, and then Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin scored on a shot that goaltender Pekka Rinne should have stopped. Rinne saw it all the way, and the puck ticked off the bottom of his glove.

After forward Conor Sheary slapped in a sweet feed from forward Chris Kunitz to make it 2-0, the Penguins got another break. Forward Nick Bonino threw the puck at the net on the rush with one hand on his stick. Rinne steered it away, and it hit Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm and went into the net with 16.1 seconds left in the first period.

The Penguins didn't muster another shot until Guentzel scored the winning goal.

"We had some opportunities," Crosby said. "We missed the net. We got shots blocked. It didn't feel like it was that long, but stats don't lie. I think that we've got to do a better job of getting pucks on the net and getting some more zone time. We know that."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Malkin nets PPG on blistering slapper

Even accounting for score effects -- the Penguins sitting on the lead, the Predators pushing to catch up -- that's unacceptable. It's downright bizarre. The Penguins didn't win enough battles, weren't strong enough on the puck, weren't engaged enough.

"We had a discussion in between periods about staying on our toes, playing the game the right way, making sure that we don't try to sit on the lead or defend the lead, that we try to go out and get the next goal," coach Mike 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."

The first step to fixing the problem is admitting it, though.

"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. I think that's an important takeaway. …

"I think we trust the leadership of the group that we have, that they get it. They understand. They know we weren't at our best. We had that discussion after the game. This is something we'll learn from, and we'll try to make sure that we respond the right way for Game 2."

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