Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was certainly something.
Monday night marked the seven-year anniversary of Game 1 of the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final. Monday night's game between the Predators and Penguins was the highest-scoring series opener in a Cup Final since that night, when the Flyers lost to Chicago, 6-5.
The Penguins came out on top, 5-3, on Monday to take a 1-0 series lead, but the eye test told a much different story.
The Predators controlled the first 10 minutes of the game and appeared to get on the board first with a goal by P.K. Subban. Ultimately, a Pittsburgh challenge overturned the goal on an offside call.
That set off a barrage of goals for Pittsburgh. A two-minute 5-on-3 helped the Penguins get the lead with Evgeni Malkin scoring the goal at 15:32. Conor Sheary added another just 1:05 later. And with 16 seconds left in the period, Nick Bonino’s one-handed backhand shot went off of Mattias Ekholm and in to make it 3-0.
Nashville dominated the second, holding Pittsburgh without a shot and taking nine themselves. One of those found the net, with Ryan Ellis scoring on a power play. Still, despite the strong effort, Pittsburgh held a two-goal lead going to the third.
Another power play for Nashville helped them cut the lead to one as Colton Sissons had a slap pass from Roman Josi go off his knee and in with 9:54 to play.
Subban took a delay of game penalty moments later that could have been the dagger for the Predators. Instead, they killed it off, holding the Penguins without a shot, and scored immediately after with Austin Watson centering for Frederick Gaudreau to tie the game with 6:31 to go.
Nashville continued to apply pressure as the closing minutes hit. To this point, the Penguins had gone almost 37 minutes without a shot going back to the final minute of the first period.
On their first shot of the third, they scored. Jake Guentzel fired a perfectly-placed shot past Pekka Rinne to give the Penguins the lead with 3:17 to play.
The Predators never regrouped, and Bonino iced the game with an empty-net goal.
So let’s start with the obvious elephant in the room: the offside call. Not two hours before the game, commissioner Gary Bettman took questions from the media, one of them regarding the coach’s challenge for offside and goalie interference. Bettman said it was “working as we thought it would.”
Little did he know the first goal of the Stanley Cup Final would come down to such a review.
Let’s look at this from all logic. This was, without question, a close play. You can certainly understand why Pittsburgh challenged the call, and quite frankly, that’s what the challenge is for. If you believe there is evidence to get it overturned, you have the option.
That said, the replays showed during the broadcast -- assuming that was everything available to the officials and the War Room in Toronto -- provided no conclusive evidence that Filip Forsberg was truly offside. The goal should have counted based on that.
Now, if there is some replay angle that fans and television viewers were not presented that displayed this evidence, that’s fine, but usually the league issues that imagery in a press release of sorts and with the overturned call holding such magnitude, it would have circulated by now if there was. So with no visual evidence to prove why it was overturned, it’s safe to assume Nashville was robbed a goal.
From there, the rest of the first period really doesn’t have much that can be argued, other than that Nashville should have been on the board long before the second period. Pittsburgh’s five-on-three was justified, especially when you consider the calls came back around later in the game -- Nashville’s only penalty after that was a delay of game in the third that is an obvious call.
Pittsburgh’s first goal, even with the screen, was one Pekka Rinne should have stopped. He managed to get a small piece of Evgeni Malkin’s shot with his glove, but not nearly enough to keep it out of the net.
Pittsburgh’s second goal was a complete defensive breakdown by Nashville. Conor Sheary was left wide open, Nashville’s defense and Rinne bit on Chris Kunitz’s fake and very quickly, it was 2-0.
The goal that really may have been the difference in the game was not the one disallowed or the one from the 5-on-3, but the Penguins final goal of the third. There were under 30 seconds left in the period. Every player on the ice at that point is pretty much playing to the horn, one shift where you need to be effective to escape the period.
As Nick Bonino tried to cut to the net, you get the sense that something was going to happen. He wasn’t in a particularly threatening position to score a goal, but there was something about the way the play was collapsing that signaled something bad was coming.
Bonino one-handed a shot toward the net that hit right off of the leg of Mattias Ekholm. Rinne couldn’t react quickly enough to the change and into the net it went. 3-0. Dagger.
At least, that’s what you thought. What the Predators did in the second and third periods was really definitive of what this series will be. You can look at the score and the offensive numbers the Penguins have with five goals on the board. Reality is the empty-net goal can’t be factored in the same way, and the third goal is more luck than execution.
The Predators had their backs to the wall and quite honestly didn’t look like they would really even start to claw their way back when their first power play went by the wayside with only one shot on goal. They finally scored a goal that counted at 8:21 of the second, and despite out-shooting Pittsburgh, 9-0, in the second, trailed by two.
Another power play goal in the third at 10:06 made it a game again, and then Austin Watson made one of the plays of the game with a strong forecheck to force a turnover right at the end of a penalty kill. He then started to attempt the wraparound chance only to feed Frederick Gaudreau for the game-tying goal.
One thing people will forget is how close Nashville was to taking the lead. James Neal hit the crossbar with four and a half minutes to play. Just over a minute later, Jake Guentzel's shot with 3:17 left, the first for Pittsburgh in 37 minutes, beat Rinne. That was the difference.
Rinne has been the catalyst of Nashville's playoff success, and he may have been their biggest hindrance on Monday night. Game 1 on Monday was just the fifth time this season Nashville has allowed three goals or more in a game during the playoffs. But typically in those games, Rinne was still making some saves on difficult shots to help keep his team in the game.
Rinne allowed four goals on 11 shots, a percentage of .636, easily his worst of the playoffs. And when the Predators really needed Rinne to stop a quality chance, it was on what felt like Pittsburgh's first shot in forever.
So with everything Nashville did, it wasn't enough. Pittsburgh was flat-out outplayed, and they still won. And whether you point toward an offside call, a 5-on-3, puck luck or a perfectly-placed first shot in 37 minutes, it was as eventful a series opener as you will find.
What did we learn? Pittsburgh certainly won on the puck luck, game-of-inches side of things. But Nashville came to play, controlled the pace and stifled the Pittsburgh offense to just 12 shots. If a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 proved to be nothing for Nashville, then a 1-0 series deficit won't be either.
If you thought this was going to be a cakewalk for one team or the other, Game 1 already proved you wrong. This is going to be a competitive series to the end.