This Stanley Cup Final has been billed as a fast, skilled series between two highly entertaining teams – pitting the league’s best top-four on defense, with Nashville’s Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, against the league’s top offense, with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Game 1 featured a lot of the Predators’ defensemen giving the Penguins all they could handle. For a 4:11 stretch to end the first period, it also featured a lot of Pittsburgh cranking up that league-best offense.

Then, in an absolutely baffling turn of events, the Penguins went for a stretch of about 37 minutes – nearly two full periods – without a shot on goal. During that time, they blew a three-goal lead. And then, somehow, they won a 5-3 decision to take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It all started looking a whole lot like it was going to be Nashville’s night.

At 7:13 of the first period, Predators forward Filip Forsberg set up Subban for a shot that went through defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s legs, then Penguins goaltender Matt Murray. But the Penguins challenged the goal and, when Forsberg was ruled offside, it came off the board.

That, combined with a big opportunity for the Penguins power play, changed everything.

With Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok and former Penguins James Neal in the penalty box, the Penguins had a 5-on-3 for two full minutes. And Evgeni Malkin took advantage with a dead-on blast at Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

“The impact of that [offside] moment, then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills, I think, changed the course of the game,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.

A minute and five seconds later, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan’s decision to keep struggling forward Conor Sheary in the lineup after a strong Game 7 versus Ottawa paid off. Sheary spotted an open side of the Nashville goal, used his speed to get there, and pounced on a pass from Chris Kunitz to get off a one-timer. That put the Penguins up 2-0.

Three minutes after that, with the Penguins still buzzing around the Nashville goal, center Nick Bonino threw a one-handed shot across the slot. Rinne swept it out toward Ekholm, and the puck bounced right into the net off of his pants.

“It’s funny. You try to get the perfect shot off a lot, then you just throw it at the net with one hand and it goes in,” Bonino said. “Sometimes you need those to get out of a little bit of a slump. We’ll take ‘em how we can get ‘em, that’s for sure.”

The Penguins, who had been held to two shots on goal for the first half of the period, went off for the first intermission up 3-0. But the next two periods would not be as kind.

Perhaps it was the catfish – which, despite the best efforts of a well-known Pittsburgh fish market, a Nashville fan still managed to sneak into PPG Paints Arena and throw on the ice early in the frame. After that, Game 1 was all Nashville.

After a first period where the breaks all went Pittsburgh’s way, the Predators were bound to get power-play opportunities. They did, with consecutive penalties to Penguins defensemen Olli Maatta and Ian Cole. And, with 18 seconds left on Cole’s, Nashville got on the board with an Ellis slapshot from the left point.

Nashville dominated the second-period puck possession and play so convincingly, in fact, that the Penguins went an entire period without a single shot on goal for the first time in the history of their franchise. It was also the first time that’s happened in a Stanley Cup Final since the league started tracking shots in 1957-58.

“We weren’t very good,” Sullivan said. “When you’re playing a team like Nashville that has a balanced attack, you’ve got to have some pushback. I don’t think, in the second period, we had any pushback.

“We had a discussion in between periods about staying on our toes; making sure we don’t try to sit on the lead. This team is usually pretty good at making sure we’re continuing to play the right way. Tonight, that wasn’t the case.”

If you thought that couldn’t possibly continue for the Penguins, of all teams, in the third period, well, you’d be wrong.

The first half of the final frame looked like a track meet, with the teams trading control of the puck but only one – Nashville – getting a shot on goal for the first half of the frame.

But Malkin opened the door for the Predators with an unnecessary slashing penalty on Subban. Josi’s shot at 10:06 tipped off center Colton Sissons and into the net.

The Penguins’ 3-0 advantage had evaporated, leaving them with a 3-2 nailbiter. Pittsburgh got an opportunity to extend their lead on a puck-over-glass penalty to Subban at 11:24 but, incredibly, still couldn’t get so much as a shot on goal on the resulting power play.

“They out-quicked us out there,” said forward Patric Hornqvist, who returned after missing six games with an upper-body injury. “They were first to pucks; they won most of the battles. We didn’t get pucks behind them. We felt like we were chasing the puck the whole game. It’s hard to get scoring chances when they have the puck.”

Then the Predators came the other way with the tying goal that felt like it was only a matter of time.

“You never think you’re going to blow a three-goal lead [but], when we did, we kind of knew it was coming,” Bonino said. “It wasn’t like it snuck up on us. It woke us up a bit. Times like that, you’ve got to just keep playing hard. Just stay focused.”

And with 3:17 remaining, the Penguins finally got that elusive shot on goal. And because they are the Penguins, naturally, it went in.

To make the whole thing even more surreal, it went in off the stick of rookie Jake Guentzel who, despite leading the playoffs with nine – now 10 – goals, was nearly scratched with the return of Hornqvist, after a series with Ottawa where every shot he took seemed to ring off a post or crossbar.

Not this one.

“You just have to stay positive,” Guentzel said. “You’re getting the chances; sometimes, this is how it’s going to go. You’ve just got to stay with it. Came at the right time tonight.”

Bonino scored his second of the game on an empty-net goal that was the Penguins’ 11th shot of the game. They finished with 12, the fewest in Penguins playoff history – and of any team to win a Stanley Cup Final game. Guentzel’s goal held up as his fourth game-winner of the playoffs, tying the NHL rookie record.

The Predators were left wondering how they came away with such a good effort but not the result.

“I thought our guys played well from start to finish,” Laviolette said. “I thought we played a good game. We hate the score. We hate the result. But we’ll move forward.

“They won the game. You know, I’d rather be up 1-0 and having my guys say we stole one. It just cuts down our opportunities to win four games, so next game will be important for us.”

The Penguins, meanwhile, had no delusions whatsoever about their overall performance.

“We got a favorable result tonight, but we know we need to be much better in order to continue to get to where we want to go,” Sullivan said. “None of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight. I think that’s an important takeaway.

“I think we got some big plays from players at key times. I don’t want to discount that. I think that’s an important aspect of winning games. But we’re also well aware of how the game was played out there. We know we have to be better, that we got outplayed in a lot of aspects of the game for stretches of time, and our expectation is higher for ourselves.

“This is something we’ll learn from, and we’ll try to make sure we respond the right way for Game 2.”