(The Sports Xchange) – Red-hot rookie Jake Guentzel scored twice and the Pittsburgh Penguins erupted for three goals early in the third period to ease to a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday.
The defending NHL champion Penguins moved into a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which now shifts to Nashville for Game Three on Saturday.
The game was tied at 1-1 through two tight periods on goals by Pontus Aberg and Guentzel, but it took just 10 seconds of the third for Guentzel — who scored the winner in Game One — to get his second of the night and 12th of the playoffs.
He got a long rebound of a shot by Bryan Rust and took advantage of an open quarter of the net to make it 2-1 and establish a Pittsburgh record for their fastest playoff goal at the start of a period.
“We talked a lot about elevating our play,” center Matt Cullen said of Pittsburgh’s second intermission team talk.
“We didn’t think we had reached our best play yet and we were in a good spot at 1-1, and it’s an opportunity to go out and throw up your best period and put yourself in a good spot, and I thought we had a really good period.”
That was not the end of the Penguins’ quick start in the period, however.
Phil Kessel sent a shot toward the net from the right wing, and it glanced off team mate Scott Wilson, then hit Nashville’s Vern Fiddler’s skate and went under goaltender Pekka Rinne’s pads at 3:13 to make it 3-1.
Just 15 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin scored off of a two-on-one, firing a perfect shot over Rinne’s glove for a 4-1 lead. That gave Pittsburgh three goals in the first 3:28 of the third.
It was enough for Nashville coach Peter Laviolette to send in backup goalie Juuse Saros to replace Rinne, who had stopped 21-of-25 shots.
TWO MORE WINS
Rinne allowed four goals on 11 shots in Game One and has allowed 20 goals over his past six games after conceding just 16 over his first 11 playoff games.
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray stopped 37-of-38 Nashville shots and Chris Kunitz had two assists for the Penguins for a second game in a row.
The game started well for the visitors when a strong individual effort by Aberg gave Nashville a 1-0 lead at 12:57 of the first.
Aberg, cutting in from the left wall, got past Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta, who fumbled the puck, and swept across just above the crease, patiently holding the puck and roofing it past Murray.
Guentzel tied it 1-1 at 16:36 of the first, four seconds after a Penguins power-play expired.
Guentzel, at the right post, took two whacks at a rebound of a Conor Sheary shot. He lifted the second one, and it found a tiny sliver of space between Rinne’s left arm and his side.
“It’s crazy,” Guentzel said of his two big games this series after an eight-game goal drought.
“You can’t even put into words what it feels like. But we know the ultimate goal is two more wins, and they’re going to be tough to get.”
Nashville, a first-time participant in the Stanley Cup Finals, heads home with a sizeable task.
“We’re concerned about where the series is at,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “We’re not where we want to be.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)