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Game 1: an obstacle course of weird bounces, epic droughts and a gutted catfish

Imagine a Salvador Dali-inspired painter trying to capture the essence of Game 1.

A team with 12 shots on goal wins a game that features eight combined goals.  A mutilated catfish hurled to the ice.  The human leg finishing +2 in scoring with a goal and an assist.  A near-game time scratch scores his league-leading 10th postseason goal after missing the net in eight straight games prior.

Maybe this is a painting that belongs on the wall in a chocolate factory run by little men with orange faces.

Pittsburgh melted the biggest of clocks on hockey’s grand stage Monday night, taking down the Nashville Predators 5-3 to open the Stanley Cup Finals.  Shy of Augustus Gloop falling into a river of chocolate, this one still had its share of mind-boggling antics that kept every viewer with a bevy of emotions, ranging from confused to downright amazed.

The bearded lady of the show was an offensive drought of a lifetime, in which the Penguins went 37-minutes, or an entire episode of Twin Peaks (sans commercials), without registering a single shot on goal.

To cognize just how inconceivable a feat this was, one would have to time-travel back to 1958 to see the last time it happened.  59 years ago, when the late, great Prince was born, NASA was invented and the Pittsburgh Penguins were still nine years away from conception.

“When that happens, you start to wonder,” said Sidney Crosby.  “Maybe the guy up there can give us at least one?”

 The shots on goal total of 12 marked the first time in Stanley Cup Finals history that a team won with such a low figure.  The number is so small, only three other teams—who all lost miserably—in the history of the Finals pulled it off.

“That was weird.  That was a weird game for us,” said Justin Schultz.

The Predators had their own wrong side of the record book moment with their netminder.

Pekka Rinne, whose goals-against-average had an NFL combine-esque vertical leap competition with Tyler Glasnow’s ERA, posted the worst save percentage (.636) in a playoff game in 50 years, giving up four goals on 11 shots.  The Preds’ netminder has still yet to beat the Penguins, falling to 0-6-2 in his career against them.

Yet even with Rinne’s brutal night, Pittsburgh still found its back pressed firmly against the wall when Frederick Gaudreau tied the game, capping a 3-0 scoring run with 6:31 left in the third.

Maybe the disgusting remains of what was once a proud-swimming, nocturnal catfish was the reason behind such odd, teeth-chattering implications.  After all, once the whiskered bottom feeder hit the ice at the 16:40 mark of the second period, the Pens managed just four more shots on goal.

The fatuous catfish tossing has been a proud tradition of Nashville since 2003.  Fans wrap the fish in saran wrap, shove it down their pants and wait for the opportune time, in which the angler will then chuck the catch of the day to the ice. 

The catfish-hurler was catfished by his own catfish, however, as the supposed “good luck charm” only yielded a significant halt in pucks to the net.  It didn’t stop two of the pucks from going inside of the net, including the game-winner from the stick of rookie Jake Geuntzel, who planted a wrister in the top-right twine, just over the glove of Rinne with 3:17 left in the game.

But catfish-be-damned, as it only gets weirder from here.

Nick Bonino, who must have smeared pool cue chalk on his stick prior to taking the ice, went driving to the crease with one hand on his stick and another pushing off a defender, smacked one off the kneecap of Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, and scored on the most fortuitous of finishes.

“It’s funny, you try to get the perfect shot off a lot,” said Bonino, who broke a lucky 13-game scoreless drought Monday night with two goals.  “Then you just throw it at the net with one hand and it goes in. Sometimes you need those to get out of a little bit of a slump. We’ll take ’em how we can get ’em, for sure.”

To one-up Bonino’s magic, Roman Josi, with a benevolent touch of sportsmanship, gave Colton Sissons a goal by ripping a one-timer off the center’s leg, which then drifted past Matt Murray and into the net, giving Nashville its second goal of the night.

The Predators ended up with a 26-12 shot advantage on the Penguins.  They scored on two of their three power plays, and they won almost every crucial puck battle.  

“This team usually, for the most part, is pretty good at making sure that we’re continuing to play the game the right way,” said Mike Sullivan.  “(Monday night) wasn’t the case. We just weren’t very good.”

“They out-quicked us out there,” Patric Hornqvist explained.  “They were first to the pucks, winning most of the battles.  That’s what happened.  If they do that, they’re obviously better than us.”

Yet they won.  A catfish, opposition dominance for the final 40 minutes, a shot on goal drought for the record books and Carrie Underwood.  All of that, and the Penguins still won. 

When you can rally enough brain cells to finally make you believe that what you saw Monday night was 60 minutes of winning hockey, and not the warped dream from the stoned mind of a Jeff Spicoli-posing surfer, then you can then truly bask in the Penguins 1-0 grasp of this series.  A Game 1 win so pivotal, that 78% of the teams that took the opening game went on to raise the Stanley Cup.  

Just like 78% of people who have read this will suffer from confusion, dizzy spells and a lack of sense for reality. 

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