The Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators, 5-3, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena, ending goal-scoring droughts for Jake Guentzel and Nick Bonino.
Guentzel had been snake-bitten of late, finding himself without a goal for eight games, including the entire Eastern Conference Final.
The rookie finally broke through when his team needed it most. Guentzel's shot at the 16:43-minute mark of the third period broke his goal-less drought, broke the Pens' 37-minute shot-less drought and broke the 3-3 tie in the game.
Guentzel's wrist shot from the right circle went top-shelf on Pekka Rinne for his fourth game-winning goal of the postseason, tying an NHL rookie record.
"Yeah, it feels good," Guentzel said about taking the lead. "We were kind of throwing pucks in the net there. It was fortunate to go in."
Despite going scoreless since Game 5 of Round Two, the rookie winger entered the matchup still leading the NHL in post-season goals with nine. He extended his league lead to 10, becoming just the fifth rookie in NHL history to reach double digits in playoff goals.
"I guess you can take it as a positive that you're getting chances," Guentzel said. "You're on the net. So you've just got to stay positive. Obviously it's tough sometimes. But you've just got to stick with it. Came at the right time tonight."
(Conor Sheary recorded his first goal of the playoffs late in the first period to give the Pens' a 2-0 lead. More on Sheary here).
Bonino had an interesting night for Pittsburgh.
The centerman had two goals in the matchup, both without actually having to beat Rinne clean.
The first tally came as Bonino took a one-handed shot toward the net that deflected off of Rinne's stick and then bounced off the skate of Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm and past a reaching Rinne to give the Pens a 3-0 lead with less than a minute left in the first period. Bonino's second goal was an empty-netter in the final minute of the game.
Prior to Monday night, Bonino had gone 13 games without a goal.
When asked if he's ever had a game like this one, Bonino laughed: "No, I'll take it though. It's been longer than it has for 'Jake'. It's funny. You try to get the perfect shot off a lot, and, then, you just throw it at the net with one hand, and it goes in. Sometimes you need those to get out of a little bit of a slump. We'll take them however we get them, that's for sure."
Pens head coach Mike Sullivan hopes that these goals will help galvanize Guentzel and Bonino.
"It's great for both of them," he said. "They're both such important parts of our team. We rely on these guys to help us offensively.
Sullivan continued: "For them to both score tonight, I hope will be a boost of confidence for both of them. Certainly we are pleased."