Proving again that the quality of their shots on goal matters more than the quantity, the Pittsburgh Penguins flattened the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final by capitalizing on their prime scoring chances.
Rookie forward Jake Guentzel scored twice to increase his postseason-leading goal total to 12 as the Penguins were outshot but prevailed, 4-1, on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Final. Game 3 will be played on Saturday at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
The Penguins mustered only 12 shots in Game 1 but won, 5-3, because they made the most of the few scoring chances they had. That was the case again on Wednesday, with Nashville having a 38-27 edge in shots but only one goal to show for it. The Penguins’ scoring outburst early in the third period led Nashville coach Peter Laviolette to replace goaltender Pekka Rinne and bring in backup Juuse Saros after Rinne had given up four goals on 25 shots.
Guentzel, who scored the winner in Game 1, now has the second-highest goal total ever recorded by a rookie in one playoff season. Dino Ciccarelli tops the list, having scored 14 goals for Minnesota in 1981. Guentzel, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, leads American-born rookie scorers in goals in one playoff season.
The Penguins said they’d take more shots on goal than the 12 they took in Game 1, and they made good on that with 12 shots in the first period Wednesday. The Predators had 18 shots in the first 20 minutes and the teams ended the period tied at 1-1.
The Predators got a five-on-three advantage at 9:36, when Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin (hooking) and Chris Kunitz (crosschecking) were sent to the box. Fans weren’t shy about booing the penalty on Kunitz because they thought P.K. Subban had exaggerated the impact of the blow, and they booed him whenever he touched the puck.
An interference penalty against Nashville’s Mike Fisher at 10:34 cut that advantage short. Seconds before that, Pittsburgh forward Nick Bonino required help to get off the ice after he blocked a shot by Subban with his left foot. The NHL’s stats showed that Bonino returned to play one shift late in the period.
The Predators scored first, at 12:57, on a bit of individual brilliance by forward Pontus Aberg. He took a pass from Viktor Arvidsson and danced around Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, who unsuccessfully reached out with his stick in an attempt to swipe the puck away. Aberg cut past him and to the front of the net, holding onto the puck before lifting a forehand past goalie Matt Murray for his second playoff goal. Arvidsson and Fisher got the assists.
The Penguins pulled even four seconds after the end of a fruitless power play. Rinne stopped a shot by Conor Sheary but the rebound came to Guentzel, who was in deep. He appeared to have little room to shoot, but Rinne moved his arm a fraction of an inch—and that was enough for Guentzel to slip the puck between Rinne’s left arm and the goalie’s body.
There were no goals scored in the second period but the Penguins made up for that in the third by scoring three times in the first three minutes and 28 seconds to take a 4-1 lead and send Rinne to the bench to watch backup Saros finish it off.
Guentzel broke the tie 10 seconds into the third period by converting the rebound of a shot by Bryan Rust. Left wing Scott Wilson was credited with the Penguins’ third goal, at 3:13. Phil Kessel set the puck to the front of the net and the puck appeared to hit Wilson’s stick and the foot of Nashville forward Vernon Fiddler before getting past Rinne.
Continuing to apply pressure, the Penguins created a two-on-one break in which Malkin kept the puck and shot it from the left wing, beating Rinne high on the glove side. That was it for Rinne, who has a record of 0-7-2 against the Penguins in his otherwise distinguished career.