The Nashville Predators have been dominating play in the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Final except for brief explosive surges by the Pittsburgh Penquins. Wednesday night Pittsburgh scored three goals in roughly three minutes (3:18) to break open a close game and post a 4-1 victory that gives the Penquins a 2-0 lead.
Jake Guentzel, Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin scored, driving Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne out of the game. Guentzel’s two goals give him 12 thus far, tops among playoff scorers. His 19 total points are the most by any American-born rookie. “It’s crazy,” Guentzel told the Associated Press. “You can’t even put into words what it feels. But we know the ultimate goal is two more wins and they’re going to be tough to get.”
Despite Guentzel’s offensive fireworks, the Penquins key player was goalie Matt Murray. He had 37 saves, and kept the Predators from blowing out the Penquins over the first two periods, when once again their speed and offensive playmaking ability led to several solid scoring chances. Yet only a spectacular move and score by Pontus Aberg kept Nashville from being shut out. His goal gave the Predators a 1-0 lead. The first Guentzel score tied things at 1-1, and neither team could get on the board in the second period.
But Guentzel’s second goal, which came only 10 seconds into the third period, opened the floodgates. When the Penquins finished it about three minutes later, Juuse Saros got his first action in goal for the Predators. Rinne stopped 21 of 25 shots. The third goal, though credited to Wilson, actually resulted from a centering pass that deflected off the Predators’ Vernon Fiddler, then flew by Rinne. Still, he has been far off the form he showed during the first three series, when he was arguably the playoffs’ top performer. Rinne’s overall mark against Pittsburgh is now 0-5 for his career.
“We’ve done good things,” Predators’ coach Peter Laviolette said. “For 5 1/2 periods, we like what we did. There’s a stretch they’re able to gain some momentum, able to capitalize and be opportunistic, and that swung two games in their favor.” Though he wouldn’t name a starter in goal for Game 3, it is largely anticipated that Laviolette will return to Rinne, who has to break his streak of futility against Pittsburgh at some point.
The Predators hope that point will be Saturday in Bridgestone Arena, where Game 3 begins at 7 p.m.