Of all the things that could have happened in Monday's Stanley Cup final opener between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators, how likely was this? Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champions and the highest-scoring team in these playoffs, went almost two full periods without registering a shot on goal.
In one of the strangest games in NHL playoff history, the Penguins scored five goals on its first 10 shots against the leading goaltender in the post-season, Pekka Rinne, to steal a 5-3 victory over the visiting Predators.
It was a game that had a little of everything, including a controversial decision early on that overturned a goal by the Predators' P.K. Subban that would have given Nashville an early lead.
Everyone talked about the Ottawa Senators' smothering defensive style in the last round, but this was something the Penguins had never seen before. At one point Pittsburgh went 37 minutes without a shot on goal, but when they finally got one – 16:43 into the third period – they made it count, rookie Jake Guentzel breaking a 3-3 tie with his first goal in eight games and the game winner.
Guentzel's goal came seconds after a shot by Nashville's James Neal deflected off the goalpost behind goaltender Matt Murray but stayed out. Pittsburgh was floundering at that point, but the poise of the Stanley Cup champions helped them pull it out in the end, though this was no artistic masterpiece.
Nick Bonino, last year's playoff scoring hero, added two goals, including an empty-netter that solidified the win.
Game 2 will be played Wednesday night at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Nashville did a lot of things right in the game – including holding the Penguins without a single shot on goal in the second period – but ultimately they couldn't overcome an awful lapse in poise late in the opening period, in which they surrendered three goals in a four-minute, 11-second span that ultimately cost them the game.
Evgeni Malkin and Conor Sheary also scored for the Penguins.
Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and rookie Frédérik Gaudreau replied for Nashville. Sissons, who is playing higher up the depth chart as a result of a season-ending injury to leading scorer Ryan Johansen, contributed his 11th point of the playoffs, which gives him one more than he had in the entire regular season.
Teams winning Game 1 of the final have gone on to win the championship in 60 of 77 seasons (78 per cent) since the league introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939. The last team to win the Stanley Cup after dropping the opening game of the series was the 2011 Boston Bruins against Vancouver.
Just about everything that could go wrong did for Nashville in the opening period of a game that started so promisingly well. The Predators showed no real nerves early and apparently put the first goal on the board, when Subban scored only 7:13 into play, on a neatly timed shot from the top of the circle. Unhappily for Nashville, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan immediately challenged the play, citing offside. After a lengthy review, Subban's goal was overturned on an almost-too-close-to-call play at the blue line where the Predators' Filip Forsberg looked as if he had control of the puck as his team entered the zone.
The reversal clearly flipped the momentum in the game. Pittsburgh settled down after the Subban goal was taken off the board, and Nashville suddenly started to play nervous.
As if that wasn't enough, the Predators then took two minor penalties on the same play a few moments later. Calle Jarnkrok signalled for a phantom penalty against Patric Hornqvist, Neal getting whistled down for a crosscheck on the same play. The Predators killed all but the last few seconds of the double infraction before Malkin teed up a shot from the high slot that deflected in off Rinne's glove hand.
The Penguins could smell blood and they took full advantage.
With Nashville coach Peter Laviolette still arguing the penalty sequence called against his team, the Penguins scored again, only 65 seconds later, the 37-year-old Chris Kunitz finding Connor Sheary open at the side of Rinne's net after Sidney Crosby forced a turnover in the Predators' zone. Because Pittsburgh had the last change, Sullivan was able to get Crosby's line out against Nashville's third defence pair of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber.