Evgeni Malkin scores a power-play goal in the first period of Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Christian Tyler Randolph/Tribune-Review)
Eighteen seconds before the expiration of a five-on-three power play that was proving disastrous, the Penguins put the puck past Pekka Rinne for the first goal of this Stanley Cup Final.
That the shot came off the stick of Evgeni Malkin was something of a surprise, more so an anomaly for the NHL playoffs scoring leader, with 25 points (eight goals).
Malkin has been magnificent on the man-advantage, with 10 points this postseason. Yet, believe it or not, this was his first power-play goal of the playoffs.
And it was a beauty.
Before we get to the play that started the scoring in the Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena, let's consider what made it so momentous.
The Predators were thoroughly outplaying the Penguins through the first seven minutes of the opening period, which has become a theme for opponents this postseason, when star defenseman P.K. Subban fired a wrister from the top of the left circle for a 1-0 Nashville lead.
Or was it?
Mike Sullivan immediately issued a coach's challenge, and a video review showed that Filip Forsberg lifted his right skate and was offside moments before the puck found its way to Subban.
It was a big break for the Penguins — one that changed everything.
Then the Predators got another bad break at 13:50 with dual penalties by center Calle Jarnkrok, for interference on Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, and left wing James Neal, for cross-checking Trevor Daley.
But Nashville is known for its defense and its goaltender, and the Predators penalty-kill unit kept the puck away from the Penguins for the next 1:42.
But Malkin dumped one along the backboards to Crosby, who got away with an elbow that leveled Mattias Ekholm. Crosby found Daley, who set up Malkin for the one-timer.
“That wasn't a great five-on-three leading up to it, but we found a way to put it in,” Crosby said. “Geno's goal got us going, gave us a little momentum, gave us a little bit of life — especially coming off that disallowed goal. For him to step up with that one definitely got us going.”
Malkin's goal opened the floodgates against Rinne, who entered the final with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Not only did it give Malkin an early edge over Rinne for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP, but its value soon was magnified.
The Penguins scored two more goals in four minutes for a 3-0 first-period lead, thanks to Conor Sheary getting his first of the playoffs and Nick Bonino getting a lucky bounce from Rinne's stick and off Ekholm.
The Penguins then went 37:09 without a shot.
That's unimaginable, given their array of offensive talent, and Sullivan admitted they got outplayed for long stretches.
Meantime, the Penguins blew the three-goal lead. Nashville rallied to tie it before rookie Jake Guentzel ended his eight-game goal-scoring drought at 16:43.
As Crosby said, it wasn't a textbook victory. Except maybe for Malkin's goal, which gave the Penguins a spark that was missing for much of the game.
A day earlier, at Stanley Cup media day, Malkin made it clear that he doesn't get caught up in his statistics.
“I count Cups,” he said.
And the Penguins are one victory closer to another.