Penguins wary, Predators confident as Game 2 looms

8 Comments

PITTSBURGH (AP) The winning team went nearly two full periods without a shot. The hottest goaltender in the playoffs was only tested 11 times in 58 minutes – and lost.

No wonder Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan described his team’s 5-3 victory over Nashville in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as “bizarre.”

And that doesn’t even include the catfish tossed onto the ice by a Predators fan at PPG Paints Arena in the middle of a second period. The fish that splatted on the Nashville blue line earned the thrower three misdemeanor charges and also came as close to Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne as anything the Penguins managed during 20 minutes in which the highest-scoring team in the league couldn’t even muster a single shot.

“It’s not always pretty,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “We don’t get points for style. But what I love about our team is that we find ways to win, we compete.”

True, though for the majority of Game 1, the competition was pretty one-sided. The Predators controlled the pace and the puck, just not the scoreboard. It left the guys from “Smashville” in a new position for the first time since they began their mad dash to the final a month ago: chaser instead of chasee as Game 2 looms on Wednesday night.

“Now we face a little adversity,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis, who scored the first Stanley Cup Final goal in team history. “We see what kind of group and character we have to bounce back.”

The Predators haven’t dropped consecutive games in the postseason and their four previous losses were pretty easy to explain. What happened on Monday night was not. The only area where Nashville wasn’t markedly better than the defending Stanley Cup champions is the only one that really matters.

“Everything was there that we liked but the result,” Ellis said.

Ellis described the Predators as more disappointed than mad. You can probably add baffled to the list. Nashville became the first team since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1957 to hold a team without a shot for an entire period during the Stanley Cup Final. The gulf actually stretched 37 minutes in all, which sounds like a perfect way for the opponent to win.

Read more: A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

Except the streak was bookended by goals. The first, a ricochet off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead with 17 seconds left in the first period. The second, a sniper shot by Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel exactly 37 minutes later, put Pittsburgh back in front to stay at 4-3.

The angst Nashville felt isn’t new to those who face the Penguins. Pittsburgh was outshot throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. It didn’t stop the Penguins from knocking off Columbus in five games and Washington in seven. There’s a bit of a changeling quality to this group as opposed to the one that beat San Jose in six games to win the Cup last spring.

Sullivan calls it the ability to “win games different ways,” but what happened in Game 1 seems borderline impossible. The Penguins understand they were equal parts lucky and good. They also understand they can’t afford to have their offense go dormant for nearly two periods.

Only a handful of Penguins participated in a skate on Tuesday, though the video room was crowded while they searched for ways to make sure a funk like that doesn’t happen again.

“We know that’s not necessarily the way you want to play the game every night,” Crosby said.

Read more: The Penguins have sure been ‘opportunistic’ this postseason

The Predators are more focused on the process than the end product. Save for a bumpy stretch near the end of the first period where the Penguins scored three times, Nashville did exactly what it wanted to do. Defenseman P.K. Subban pointed to the response after falling behind by three as proof the stage is not too big.

“It’s easy in a Stanley Cup game to come back in the room, everybody is quiet, nerves,” Subban said. “But that’s not our hockey club. We know how good we can be. The way we responded was typical Nashville Predators.”

Typical for everyone except Rinne. The 34-year-old goalie is the main reason Nashville’s season will extend into June for the first time. Yet his iffy play in Game 1 continued a troubling trend. He came into the series 1-5-2 with a .880 save percentage and 3.57 goals-against average in his career against the Penguins, numbers that ticked in the wrong direction even though he spent a majority of three periods standing in his crease with nothing to do while his teammates were at work at the other end of the ice.

Rinne’s teammates rallied to his defense. They’re well aware that without him they likely would have traded their sticks for golf clubs long ago.

“Looking back since I came here a couple years ago, he’s been the best player in almost all of the games played,” Filip Forsberg said. “We have all the belief in Pekks we can ever have. I’m looking forward to see him play next game.”

Related: Preds still unconvinced Forsberg was offside

Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

Getty
Leave a comment

The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

Getty
3 Comments

Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

Housley was not happy about it.

Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

From the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Devils place goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve

Getty
1 Comment

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night in a 5-4 overtime victory at Ottawa.

Schneider left after the second period. Keith Kinkaid replaced him and stopped all nine shots he faced to earn the victory.

With Schneider sidelined, Kinkaid was expected to start Friday night at home against San Jose.

The Devils recalled goalie Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

The Devils catch a scheduling break with a week off until their next game Oct. 27, the first day Schneider is eligible to return.

Schneider is 4-1-0 in six games this season with a 3.30 goals-against average.

————

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

Getty Images
9 Comments

The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.: