Jake Guentzel scored two more goals to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night. The Penguins are now two wins from becoming the first back-to-back Stanley Cup winner since the 1997-98 Red Wings.
The Penguins put away a second straight win despite losing the shot battle to the Predators yet again. This time around, Pittsburgh was outshot, 38-27, but Pekka Rinne couldn’t shake his recent stumbles. Nashville finally pulled Rinne in the third period, but the damage had been done at that point.
If there’s any consolation for the Predators, it’s that their gameplan has actually worked to a large degree through two games. They’re winning the possession battle just like they had in prior playoff series.
But the Penguins’ finishing ability is unmatched in the NHL, and Rinne hasn’t been able to adjust after dominant efforts against the Blackhawks, Blues, and Ducks. It’s possible the Predators turn to 22-year-old Juuse Saros, the backup goalie who filled in for the remainder of Wednesday’s game.
Saros managed to stop the bleeding in Game 2, although he was saved from a goal by an offsides challenge after a potential score by Patric Hornqvist. He ended up finishing the game with two saves on two shots, and could be your Game 3 starter if Peter Laviolette decides to bench Rinne, who has regressed over the course of the playoffs.
Remarkably, Pittsburgh scored four goals Wednesday without a point from Sidney Crosby. The Predators held Crosby and Malkin shotless until the third period, when Malkin’s first shot beat Rinne for a goal.
All this came after Pontus Aberg got the Predators ahead early by undressing Olli Maatta en route to his second goal of the playoffs. Aberg made a fantastic series of moves to get around Maatta, who was left looking dumbfounded after the winger beat Matt Murray to put Nashville up 1-0.
The Penguins responded from there just minutes later when Jake Guentzel beat Rinne on a rebound. Rinne should’ve been able to cut off the shot given his positioning, but he left a gap between his arm and torso where Guentzel was able to slip the puck through. After his second goal, Guentzel is up to 19 points in the playoffs, just two away from tying the playoff record for rookies.
Pittsburgh was much more active offensively in the first period compared to Game 1, matching its 12 shots from the series opener in just 20 minutes, but that didn’t hold up. The Predators were the better team in the second period just like in Game 1, this time holding a 14-7 advantage in shots on goal.
Murray kept up his stellar work yet again, however, keeping the game knotted up, 1-1, despite the Predators having nine more shots after two periods. Unlike Rinne, Murray was stellar in Game 2 with 37 saves on 38 shots.
Then came the disastrous third period for Nashville, which saw Guentzel score his second goal of the game just 10 seconds in. The Penguins had a goal by Patric Hornqvist waved off following an offside challenge, but that came after the onslaught had already put the Predators in a 4-1 hole.
Nashville will have to take the positives from its strong possession game in Pittsburgh, but there’s reason for concern. Rinne has lost his mojo in net, the offense lacks finishing ability without Ryan Johansen, and now the Predators need to win four of the next five. It’s possible, but the Penguins have a firm grasp on the series now.
Game 3 is set for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. It’s the first Stanley Cup Final home game in Predators’ history, so expect an absolutely raucous crowd on hand. Expect catfish, too. The action will be broadcast on NBCSN.