It is time to realize that Jake Guentzel is a serious threat to win the Conn Smythe trophy. The rookie scored twice again on Wednesday night, and again tallied the game winning goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins held serve at home and took a commanding two-games-to-none lead with a 4-1 win at PPGPA.
Guentzel now has 12 goals in the post-season to go along with seven assists. While he may not have the point total of….say….Evgeni Malkin who now has 26, his goals have been timely and large. He now owns the record for most goals and points in a post season by an American born rookie, passing Jeremy Roenick in the goal department.
— Penguins PR (@PensPRLady) June 1, 2017
Another rookie carried the way early for the Penguins, and this one is someone we are used to seeing. Matt Murray made 17 saves in the first period and finishing the game with 37 saves on 38 shots. While Nashville was out playing Pittsburgh again, early on, it was Murray who held the fort.
Nashville would, however strike first as Olli Maatta miss-played a puck in the neutral zone and it allowed Pontus Aberg to beat Maatta wide before swinging in front and out-waiting Murray before lifting it over him to open the scoring. It was a great rush by Aberg, but Olli has to make that play when he gets a stick on it in the neutral zone. Period.
So Nashville had their first official lead of the series, and then they were given a huge chance to build on that lead. Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin went to the box giving Nashville a five-on-three for a full two minutes. Kunitz, particularly made a bad decision as he cross checked PK Subban in the head. A dangerous, unneeded play by Kunitz.
Pittsburgh would survive however as Mike Fisher took an interference penalty one minute in to the Preds power plays. The Penguins would kill of the remaining four on three penalty time, and disaster was averted.
Just after another Nashville penalty to Roman Josi would expire, the Penguins would strike to tie the game.
Connor Sheary would put a puck on Pekka Rinne’s pads and Guentzel would be there to dig away at it. His quick flip would go under Rinne’s arm and at 16:36 the game was all square once again.
Murray would go on to make a couple of big saves late in the period and Pittsburgh escaped to the locker room.
The second period saw the Penguins actually get some shots off this time. Nashville would hold a 14-7 advantage for the period, but the Penguins would also fail to take advantage of two more times with the man advantage.
One area where the Pens improved as the game went on was the faceoff circle. Nashville owned Pittsburgh in the first, winning the first nine or ten draws before the numbers slowly became more respectable as the game went on.
Pens lost 20 of 27 draws and don't have Bonino at the moment. Sissons went 11-1. Sid & Geno combined lost 12 of 14. That is a big problem.
— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) June 1, 2017
So with a tie game and Nashville on pace for 50 shots in the game, Pittsburgh was still in a position to take the game and a firm grasp on the series.
Just ten seconds into the third, they did exactly that. striking in rapid fashion much like Game 1, before the Preds could figure out what happened.
Bryan rust would put a low shot off of Rinne’s pads, from there the puck would bounce into the high slot. Guentzel would quickly one-time the puck low and towards the wide open side of the net. Rinne had no chance to get over and the Penguins claimed the lead.
Three minutes later, Phil Kessel would lead a two on one rush and looked to have waited too long to pass the puck to Scott Wilson. Somehow the puck found its way through the Nashville sliding defenseman and the puck EVER so slightly went off of Scott Wilson’s stick and then off of another Nashville player before going through Rinne’s five-hole for a two goal lead.
Before you again…could sit down, a bad pinch by Ryan Ellis led to a two on one again for Pittsburgh. This time it would be Malkin who never looked off for a pass and fired a dart to the upper corner over Rinne’s glove and the PPG was rocking.
Just like that Rinne was pulled from the net. What turned into his ninth straight loss to Pittsburgh now raises a lot of questions in the Nashville locker room. Will he get the start in Game Three?? Given how poor he has looked thus far, it’s not out of the question for a guy who came into the series as a possible clubhouse leader for Playoff MVP.
Juuse Soros would man the pipes for the remainder of the game. He too would be beaten by Patric Hornqvist on an apparent power play goal, but video review showed the play to be offsides so the goal came off the board. It was a good call, and very similar to the goal taken away from Nashville in the first game.
PK Subban and Evgeni Malkin would throw hands after a scrum behind the net. If you’re Subban, you HAVE to do that…sparking your team for Game Three as an emotional leader on and off the ice. If your Geno, well….that was beyond dumb. Why even put yourself in a position to hurt your hand or anything in that situation.
The referees didn’t have the best of nights, a missed boarding call when Matt cullen was caught right on his number from behind. Sidney Crosby tripping up Rinne in the second. You expect a certain level of incompetence from the officials just because. Last night bordered on letting things completely get out of control.
Pittsburgh also survived an injury scare when Nick Bonino blocked a shot off of the inside of the ankle in period one and looked like he would need an amputation. Nevertheless he returned for period two and finished the game.
Going into Nashville, you know the Preds will come out gunning with their home fans all up in a stir with the country music blaring and what not. Catfish will be raining out of the sky and a good old fashion honky-tonk will be in full effect. Much like San Jose last year, the Penguins will need to play a simple, smart game and take the crowd factor away.
Getting a split in Music City would be a realistic, yet wonderful thing. One game at a time, no talk of a sweep at all.
The teams will have a couple of days to think it through as Game Three is set for Saturday at 8 PM.
Mike Warren will have your coverage for that one, and Game Four as well. If there is a need for Game Five, I’ll have you covered next week.
Thanks for reading, and as always….Let’s Go Pens.