Pens hold off Predators to take Game 1

AP Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel and Nashville's Pekka Rinne watch Evgeni Malkin's shot go into the net.

PITTSBURGH (TNS) – A fan-flung catfish was the most threatening thing Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne saw during the second period Monday night.

For much of the third, too.

The squishy mass went splat at the blue line – and thankfully nobody worried about challenging whether it was offside.

While the moment was funny, it told part of the story of Monday’s 5-3 Penguins win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins nearly blew a 3-0 lead, one compounded by an awful offensive effort in the middle part of the game, before Jake Guentzel saved it with a goal at 16:43 of the third period.

Game 2 is back here on Wednesday, and here’s a stat to remember: Whichever team wins Game 1 in the Stanley Cup final marches to victory 78 percent of the time.

After Nick Bonino scored at 19:43 of the first period, the Penguins did not register another shot on goal until Guentzel scored on a wrister from the right circle, a fabulous transition play from Matt Cullen.

A primary part of the Penguins’ problem was the overuse of stretch passes. It’s not typical for a Mike Sullivan-coached team, and the results weren’t good.

The Penguins may have wanted to avoid dump-ins because of Rinne’s ability to play the puck, but how they went about doing that will likely merit attention at Tuesday’s practice.

They also looked like the more tired team. Nashville had enjoyed six days off to three for the Penguins between conference finals. Penguins players downplayed the rest factor, but the Predators had more determination for much of this one.

Bonino contributed his second goal of the game, an empty-netter, at 18:58 of the third, to let the Penguins breathe easier, a narrow escape somehow executed.

It’s hard to imagine the Penguins enjoying a better opening period, although it didn’t start out that way. Momentum flipped with an offside review at 7:13.

P.K. Subban appeared to score with a wrister from atop the right circle, but Penguins video coach Andy Saucier saw something and Sullivan challenged.

Turned out that Filip Forsberg was indeed offside, his right skate picking up before he received the puck, and the goal was taken off the board.

The Penguins’ influx of offense started with a pair of penalties on Predators at 13:50. Enjoying a five-on-three advantage, Evgeni Malkin blasted a point shot past Rinne at 15:32.

Guentzel, who looked like he’d be a healthy scratch based on Sunday’s practice, provided a screen in front, while Crosby knocked down Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm to win a puck battle behind the net.

Another multiple-player effort led to the Penguins’ second goal.

Conor Sheary scored it, at 16:37, his first of the playoffs and first of the postseason. The sequence started when Brian Dumoulin cut off a Yannick Weber clearing attempt.

Chris Kunitz, who scored the double-overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to push the Penguins to this point, faked Rinne and dished to Sheary, camped out near the right post.

Credit to Sullivan, too; he had Crosby’s line out against Nashville’s third defense pair, a matchup he tried to create often in Game 1.

A 3-0 Penguins lead occurred because of some pretty decent luck. Bonino threw a backhand, one-handed attempt at Rinne, and it glanced off the goaltender’s stick, off Ekholm and in.