Stanley Cup Finals: Rookie Jake Guentzel leads Pittsburgh Penguins to 2-0 series lead
Rookie Jake Guentzel scored twice and the Pittsburgh Penguins exploded for three goals in the third period Wednesday in a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators in the NHL Stanley Cup finals.
The reigning champion Penguins took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series, which shifts to Nashville for Game 3 on Saturday.
The score was knotted at 1-1 through two periods after goals from Pontus Aberg and Guentzel.
Ten seconds into the third period, Guentzel — who delivered the game-winner in Game 1 — notched his second of the game.
Guentzel collected a long rebound off Bryan Rust’s shot and fired home to make it 2-1. It was the quickest goal to start a period in Penguins playoff history.
The 22-year-old Guentzel has produced 12 goals in 21 postseason games. Only one rookie, Dino Ciccarelli in 1980-81, has produced more playoff goals with 14.
“It’s crazy,” said Guentzel, who had tied it at 1-1 at 16:36 of the first period. “You can’t even put into words what it feels like.
“We know the ultimate goal is two more wins. Obviously they’re going to be tough to get.”
The Penguins kept them coming. At 3:13 Phil Kessel sent a shot toward the net from the right wing that glanced off teammate Scott Wilson, then hit the skate of Nashville’s Vern Fiddler and went under Predators goalkeeper Pekka Rinne’s pads for a 3-1 lead.
Fifteen seconds later Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin scored off of a two-on-one, lofting a shot over Rinne’s glove to make it 4-1 in the first 3:28 of the third.
The outburst marked a turnaround for a Penguins team that had been struggling on offence. They had been out-shot 32-19 at that point.
Nevertheless, the Penguins were “pretty confident” going into the third, Conor Sheary said.
A team chat in the locker room during the second intermission helped the Penguins get on track.
“We talked a lot about elevating our play,” said centre Matt Cullen.
“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.”
Pittsburgh’s surge prompted Nashville coach Peter Laviolette to pull Rinne, who departed after stopping 21 of 25 shots with Juuse Saros taking over.
“You have to put it behind you,” Rinne said. “For me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve played a long time, and this is my first time having a chance to play for the Cup, so I think you just have to bury these two games and move ahead and just find a way to find some success.”
Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray stopped 37 of 38.
“I just tried to make the next save, tried to hold them off as long as possible,” Murray said. “After that, we have confidence that we’re going to score goals.”
Aberg was the only one to get past him, opening the scoring at 12:57 of the first.
But the Predators, in the finals for the first team, head home with a mountain to climb.
“We’re concerned about where the series is at,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “We’re not where we want to be.”
* Agence France-Presse
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Updated: June 1, 2017 04:00 AM