Jake Guentzel | Playoff Performer of the Night

On a night when his team had a paltry 12 shots on net, Jake Guentzel made sure his only one was a big one.

On a night when his team had a paltry 12 shots on net, Jake Guentzel made sure his only one was a big one.

The Pittsburgh Penguins desperately needed someone to answer the bell in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, a contest that saw them cough up a 3-0 lead on home ice, go shotless in the second period and get outplayed for long stretches by the Nashville Predators.

With the defending Stanley Cup champs reeling on the ropes, enter rookie Guentzel, who delivered the knockout blow with 3:17 left in the third period, en route to a 5-3 Pens victory.

“We were just kind of throwing pucks in the net there,” said Guentzel, of his game-winning tally. “Fortunate to go in. Hadn't taken a shot in a while, so just trying to get on net and see what happened from there.”

The net result was an improbable win that defied statistical logic.

For Guentzel, it was equal parts elation and relief. Coming into Game 1, he had gone eight games without scoring a goal.

Yet no one, including his head coach, had lost faith in the 22-year-old from Nebraska.

“He's played a lot of really good hockey for us,” said Mike Sullivan. “He was playing heavy minutes. When you're playing on Sid's line, there's obviously an expectation to produce offensively. He's done a terrific job for us.

“We felt in the last series that he might have been wearing down a little bit. The coaching staff was trying to be proactive and trying to find ways to maybe cut his minutes a little bit so that we would get more productive minutes from him. Quite honestly, to take a little bit of pressure off him. But by no means did we lose faith. We know he's a good player. He's a high-quality player. He gets a great goal for us tonight. I think that's an indication of the type of player that he is and his capability.”

Guentzel’s goal on Monday night was his 10th of the playoffs. In 20 post-season games, he has four game-winning goals and 17 points.

After 33 points, including 16 makers, in 40 regular season games, Guentzel’s strong playoff performance hardly comes as a surprise.

Nor is the winning attitude he displayed throughout his goalless streak, a stretch that included several near misses and a few goal posts.

“I guess you can take it as a positive that you're getting chances,” said Guentzel. “You're on the net. So you just got to stay positive. Obviously it's tough sometimes. But you just got to stick with it. Came at the right time tonight.”

A recent chat with Sullivan also provided Guentzel with a boost.

“Sometimes you're going to go through this as a player,” said the centreman. “You have to realize it happens. Everyone goes through it. Just got to stick with it.”

On Monday night, Guentzel did just that. And it paid off with a Game 1 win.

Said Sullivan, “I think he's a guy that we know we can rely on here to help us win games.”

For a complete listing of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Performer of the Night, click here.