I don’t care who should have won, who might have won, or who deserved to win Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. I’m concerned with who did win. And the Pittsburgh Penguins grabbed the game last night, despite their foibles and fault lines.
Of course the Nashville Predators should have won; they surely deserved to win. Yet they found themselves on the losing end of a 5-3 contest. Break out the cliches, because that’s playoff hockey for you.
The Penguins didn’t notch a shot for 37 minutes following the first period, and Nashville scored three unanswered, poised to fill the net with another and break the 3-3 deadlock in the third period. Instead, at the 3:17 mark, Jake Guenztel pasted a short-side shot past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, giving the Penguins a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
In a game where anomaly would be an understatement, the Penguins invented another way to win. They registered a mere 12 shots, yet put in 4 even-strength goals, plus an empty-netter.
That’s how a snake-charmer would play hockey, but long-term, no team wants to live and die as the Penguins did yesterday.
It’s pretty simple. The Penguins were fortunate to win the game. If they keep playing as they did, they will lose to Nashville and get embarrassed. However, if they come back with extra elbow grease and a few adjustments to the Nashville’s viselike forecheck, I’m confident they will put in a more worthy performance.
Not only did Nashville’s defensemen pinch in the offensive zone, but their forwards did a thorough job of rubbing out Pittsburgh’s wingers when they stationed themselves along the boards to receive a breakout pass.
Thus, Penguins wingers cannot stand flat-footed along the boards, waiting for a telegraphed pass from their defensemen. I’m sure the team will address this in their film sessions and practice Tuesday.
Recalibrate according to Nashville’s forecheck, and the Pens will manufacture healthier breakouts. Mindlessly wrap pucks around the boards and from behind the net, and the Pens’ d-men will find themselves hemmed in as they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.
Though he remained tied for the NHL playoff lead in goals, Jake Guentzel had not found the back of the net for eight games. He chose an iconic moment last night to put the puck on a frozen rope.
If the Penguins are going to take the Stanley Cup, they will require more iconic moments such as Guentzel’s, especially from role players. Who will emerge as the game-breaker? Will Guenztel continue his surge? Will Conor Sheary add to the goal he scored last night? Can Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin dominate a game? Will Bryan Rust come up in the clutch?
As the playoffs have illustrated, the complexion of a series meanders about from game-to-game. And the script is anything but predictable.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.