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Opportunistic Pens strike again

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

This is what makes the Penguins so frustrating to play against. 

Pittsburgh only needed nine shots to pull off a victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena to take a 1-0 series lead.

The Pens' first four goals came on nine shots - they finished the game with 12 total shots, a new franchise-low record, while adding an empty-net goal - en route to the 5-3 win. And those goals came in bunches.

The Pens scored three goals in a 4:11-minute span in the final five minutes of the first period. The three-goal outburst from Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. 

The Pens would not get another shot on goal for 37 minutes.

That's not a typo. Thirty. Seven. Minutes.

That 37-minute shot-less span included a second period where the team registered zero shots. Zero. Which is a new team record, though I'm sure not one the team is thrilled with owning.

Pittsburgh's shot clock was stuck on eight during those 37 minutes and the Pens watched their 3-0 lead evaporate with tallies from the Predators' Ryan Ellis, Clinton Sessions and Frederick Gaudreau.

But when the Pens did finally broke that shot-less drought, they also broke a goal-less drought. Jake Guentel recorded Pittsburgh's ninth shot on goal and snapped the 3-3 tie and his eight-game goal-less streak with the game-winning tally with 3:17 left in regulation.

That's all Pittsburgh needed to win. Nine shots.

That's this Pittsburgh Penguin team in a nutshell. Heck, that's this Pittsburgh Penguin franchise in a nutshell.

The Pens would add three more shots and an empty-net goal from Bonino, his second of the game, for security.

The Nashville Predators learned in Game 1 what Ottawa learned before them, what Washington learned before them, what Columbus learned before them. When you play against the Pens you have zero room for error.

If you crack the door open for the Pens, they'll kick it right off the hinges.

Certainly winning with a minimalist shot approach was not the Pens' plan, but it underscores why Pittsburgh's opportunistic scoring is so frustrating for opposing teams.

You can outshoot the Pens. And yet...

You can out-possess the Pens. And yet...

You can even outplay the Pens for 55 minutes of a game. And yet...

The Predators controlled play for the majority of the game. Nashville still came away with a loss.

"I'd rather be up 1-0 and having my guys say we stole the game," Preds head coach Peter Laviolette said. 

It's a frustrating feeling that's all too relatable for Ottawa, Washington and Columbus.

All it takes is one mistake and Pittsburgh will make you pay. Take your foot off of the gas for one minute - or 4:11 minutes - and that's the difference between winning and losing.

The Pens know they have a lot of their game to clean up.

Head coach Mike Sullivan summed it up best: "We weren't very good," he reiterated three times.

Sullivan added: "We got a favorable result tonight, but we know we need to be much better to in order to get to where we want to go. None of us in the dressing room are fooled by the score tonight. That's an important takeaway. But we have a mature group and great leadership, and we understand it."

The Pens did get a favorable result. And the NHL is a results-based business.

The result is that the Pens are now three wins away from history.

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