The Nashville Predators scored first, had the better of play for 40 minutes, but the Pittsburgh Penguins exploded for three goals in the first 3:30 of the third period, chased Predators starting goalie Pekka Rinne and took a 2-0 series lead, 4-1.
Two more wins for the Stanley Cup.
As he was in Game 1, Rinne was again the Penguins biggest helper. Late in the first period, the Penguins tied the game with a soft chip from a few feet away by Jake Guentzel. Rinne failed to hug the post and the puck fluttered between Rinne’s arm and body.
The Predators were undeterred by the first softie allowed by Rinne. The Predators turned up the heat on the Penguins in the final minutes of the first period and for much of the second period. The Predators held the Penguins without a shot for nearly the final 11 minutes of the second period, including a pair of Penguins power plays.
Conversely, Penguins goalie Matt Murray shined. Murray was at times brilliant, including several athletic stops at the end of the first period. Murray’s work was noticed by teammates including Chris Kunitz, who specifically marveled at one extended pad save.
Nashville made Murray work. And he was a rock. Murray stopped 37 shots and kept the Penguins in the game until they found their game.
When the Penguins finally found their game, it was fast and furious. 10 seconds into the third period, Bryan Rust used Rinne’s pads to pass to Guentzel in the slot. From opening faceoff, Rust raced into the Predators zone and fired a low, far-side wrist shot. Rinne kicked it aside, but right to Guentzel who one-timed it into the mostly empty net.
Mike Sullivan admitted the team has practiced that specific play “all season”.
Three minutes later, after a couple unsuccessful two-on-one breaks, the Penguins got some help. On their next two-on-one, Phil Kessel mistakenly ate the puck without a shot or a pass, then threw the puck to the net. Penguins forward Scott Wilson first deflected it, then Predators forward Vern Fidler deflected it passed Rinne. 3-1. Wilson got credit for the goal.
15 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin capitalized on the Penguins’ fourth two-on-one of the young period. Malkin ripped a high wrist shot over Rinne’s glove. Rinne was done. The PPG Paints crowd roared. And the game was effectively over.
Nashville did not mount a serious challenge, but the game did remain physical and get worse.
As they did all night, the Penguins took the Predators best punch, then connected with theirs. Game 3 is Saturday in Nashville. Initially, the extra day off most certainly would have benefited the Penguins more than the Predators, but after the tone of the first two games, perhaps an extra day to clear the mental palette will do Nashville well.
Physical, Extra Legal and Dirty
Neither team brought their altar boy robes. The Predators seem to be using the “extra legal” hits as a tactic to upset or rattle the Penguins. The Penguins are retaliating with some predatory stuff, too.
Matt Cullen and Ryan Ellis engaged in a few nasty battles, behind the play. In one instance in the second period, Ellis put the lumber to Cullen behind the net and the pair continued to hit and check each other in front of the Nashville net, even as the play left the zone.
Moments later, Cullen exploded through Mattias Ekholm on a clean hit.
P.K. Subban both introduced himself to the Penguins star centers, Sidney Crosby and Malkin, and received stiff retribution. Subban blanketed Crosby all night, including punches, cross checks and anything necessary to keep Crosby from the puck.
In the first period, Kunitz worked Subban hard into the Nashville boards, then Kunitz cross checked Subban’s head while it was against the boards. Kunitz received only a minor penalty.
Former enforcer, Cody McLeod, attempted to join the fun. Midway through the second period, McLeod ran over Matt Murray, while skating past. No penalty was called.
And with about seven minutes remaining, Malkin and Subban dropped their gloves to settle their differences. Malkin said he felt Subban came after him and the fight was “terrible”–they just held each other for a minute, according to Malkin.
There are too many penalties to call every one and Nashville coach Peter Laviolette seems content to stir physical play as a tactic. It won’t get better in Nashville.
–Through two games, and especially the first five periods, I’ve been surprised how much better Nashville can look than the Penguins, but how little that matters to the scoreboard.
–Matt Murray had maybe his best game. The saves were not garden variety–they were difficult. Any number could have scored. Really good stuff.
–Phil Kessel. Ah, Phil. He was engaged. He chased the puck ALL the way to the corner. He also took far too long on a couple scoring chances, including a two on one.
What does it say that people praise him for the good game, but ignore the higher quantity bad games? Another day… Our own Mike Necciai will weigh in later.