The Pittsburgh Penguins (23-11-4) limited the Nashville Predators (18-14-6) to just 10 shots in the first period and led 3-0, but Nashville dominated play in the final 40 minutes including three unanswered goals in the final 21 minutes which culminated in two Mikael Granlund goals including a chip over Penguins goalie Matt Murray midway through the third period. However, Jake Guentzel scored the Penguins third power-play goal of the game with just over one minute remaining and the Penguins survived the furious comeback with a 6-4 win at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
“I don’t think it matters, but it definitely wasn’t our best win,” Rust replied to PHN with a smile.
On the first shift of the game, Bryan Rust and the Penguins top line continued their blistering offensive pace. Evgeni Malkin used every inch of his 6-foot-3 wingspan to steer a loose puck to Jake Guentzel and begin the Penguins breakout. Nashville goalie Juuso Saros stopped Guentzel’s deflection but the puck trickled through and sat alone in the crease.
Rust (15) won the race to the puck and cleaned up the garbage 32 seconds into the game. It was Rust’s 15th goal in just 24 games, and started a four-point game (2g, 2a).
The Penguins didn’t celebrate long. Just 33 seconds later, the Penguins scored again. Newly shaved winger Alex Galchenyuk earned his first point Saturday night when he skated around the Nashville net and softly set up Dominik Kahun (9) who quickly buried the chance.
Before fans had a chance to find their seats, it was 2-0.
Friday night in Nashville, the Penguins hung three first period tallies on starting goalie Pekka Rinne with just six shots. Saturday night, the Penguins needed eight shots to accomplish the feat on Saros.
Marker No. 3 was a power-play goal midway through the period. Before the game, head coach Mike Sullivan subtly chided his power play for lacking a shooter’s mentality, especially from the point.
Sullivan got his wish when defenseman Kris Letang (10) blasted a shot through traffic and past Saros. And, just as Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette did on Friday when he swapped Rinne with Saros, Saturday he flipped Saros for Rinne.
“I thought they did a great job. Obviously, they were the difference in the game,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We were trying to encourage them to simplify. They more we can establish that shot from the top, I think it really helps. We can create opportunity off of it.”
Rinne made several sparkling saves later in the first period to keep Nashville within shouting distance. The final shot tally in the first was 17-10 in the Penguins favor.
“It’s always tough to get a three-goal lead when there’s so much hockey left,” Sullivan said.
The second period was decided on special teams and each scored a power-play goal. Nashville added some drama when the scored their man-advantage marker early in the second period. Penguins goalie Matt Murray left a juicy rebound and Victor Arvidsson (9) cleaned it up.
Murray, who made just two previous starts in December and had not won since Dec. 7, allowed another goal later in the second period. He had the near post covered but Craig Smith (7) zapped a shot through Murray’s seven-hole. The goal pulled Nashville within two goals and added a loud murmur around PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins much needed fourth goal came midway through the second period on the power play. Galchenyuk (4) whipped a wrister past Rinne. It was Galchenyuk’s second goal in two games and second point on Saturday night.
Granlund (5) buried a rebound in the final minute of the second period after the Penguins allowed Matt Duchene to bolt from the boards, skate across the slot and wait out Murray.
Granlund (6) evened the game in the middle of the third period when he got behind the Penguins defensemen Jack Johnson and Kris Letang.
Guentzel (19) scored the game-winner on the power-play after Nashville grinder Auston Watson ran Murray. Rust (16) scored his second goal of the game to seal the win.
Murray stopped 44 of 48 shots for his first win since Dec. 7. Rinne was tagged with the loss despite stopping 25 of 27 shots.