Live at Game 2: Penguins 4, Predators 1 final
The Penguins took a 2-0 lead over Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-1 win in Game 2 on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena. For a second time in three nights, they used quick bursts of goal scoring to offset otherwise underwhelming perfomances in the offensive zone. And they again kept the bulk of the Predators' shot attempts out at the perimeter, allowing Matt Murray to make plenty of routine saves and asking for only a few exceptional stops.
Nashville finished with a 71-41 edge in shot attempts and a 38-27 margin in shots on goal.
"Five and a half periods, we really liked things we did," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "There's a stretch, as was pointed out in the first question, where they gained some momentum. They're able to capitalize, be opportunistic. Swung two games in their favor."
Jake Guentzel added two more goals to his playoff total (12). He needs two more to tie Dino Ciccarelli's record for a rookie (14), set in 1981 with Minnesota.
"If he just plays the game the right way, you know, it's winning puck battles, it's the wall play, it's gaining lines, it's taking what the game gives you," coach Mike Sullivan said. "When the plays are there, his instincts will take over.
"We tried to cut his minutes because he was playing a lot of minutes. This is his first year pro, coming out of college, where he's not used to playing the NHL schedule, and the demands of that physically, not to mention a long playoff run. So we just thought if we cut his minutes, we'd get more productive minutes from him.
"I think he's had an opportunity to get a little bit of a second wind. He's getting his legs back. I think his confidence is there."
Will the Penguins remain opportunistic when they occupy the visitors bench during Game 3 on Saturday in Nashville? Matt Cullen doubts the team will shrink simply because of a rowdy environment.
"It's going to be electric," the veteran center said. "That's a pretty passionate fan base. You see watching the games, when we're on the road or wherever, you see the energy in the building. It's loud. And they feed off of it. It's going to be a challenge, and we're going to have to be ready.
"I think if you handle (road games) the right way, regardless of which side you're on, it can make it fun. That's the best part of the playoffs, the energy and electricity in every building, how or away. I think if you can find a way to just thrive on it and enjoy it and make the most of it — we're just going to focus on what we have here and continue to work towards our best game. We haven't seen our best game yet, and we need to continue going in that direction."
Stanley Cup probability pic.twitter.com/xYcxdAgiWz— dom nashville (@domluszczyszyn) June 1, 2017
Jake Guentzel wants the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Never in the conversation for the Calder, which goes to the best rookie in the regular season, because he only appeared in 40 games, Guentzel has given himself a chance at the postseason MVP award with a playoff-best 12 goals, including two in Game 2 against Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final. His second tally came 10 seconds into the third period and turned a tie game into what increasingly looked like a runaway performance from the Penguins.
A flood of goals ensued, and Pekka Rinne, the favorite, odds-wise, to win the Conn Smythe, headed to the bench.
Rinne's SV% declined another .005 this evening - here is his SV% regression over the course of the playoffs. He is a career .919 SV% goalie. pic.twitter.com/wGYRXJJ4ky— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) June 1, 2017
Three minutes and three seconds after Guentzel's goal, Scott Wilson earned the Penguins' third tally, effectively an own goal from Vernon Fiddler, who kicked the puck through Rinne's legs as he bumped into the netminder. Fifteen seconds later, Evgeni Malkin snapped a shot past Rinne during a two-on-one rush.
'And game 2 finished 14-1 for the Penguins en route to the Stanley Cup win.' pic.twitter.com/mXxNd6C6qO— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 1, 2017
Backup goalie Juuse Saros lasted just three minutes and 20 seconds before he allowed his first goal, a jam-in by Patric Hornqvist, but Nashville successfuly challenged the play and caught Matt Cullen offside to earn a call reversal.
Whatever adjustments the Penguins attempted to make to generate more shots either went ignored or proved largely ineffective against Nashville, which controlled the puck and kept Sidney Crosby and company quiet even as it piled up nine minutes of penalties.
The Penguins trailed, 32-19, in shots and 53-31 in attempts at the second intermission.
Penguins out here actively trying to ruin the value of shot metrics. Also, it's very weird to see Crosby among Pens' worst possession guys. pic.twitter.com/O4pXJOE4yT— Bill West (@BWest_Trib) June 1, 2017
The Predators remained the team responsible for dictating play but incapable of capitalizing on its chances against the more opportunistic Penguins.
Even the television broadcast began to play up the Penguins' offensive impotence.
Matt Murray, credited with 25 saves through 30 minutes, refused to give up any cheap ones. At the other end of the ice, Pekka Rinne looked only slightly more self-assured than in Game 1, when he allowed four goals on 11 shots.
Murray, in addition to standing tall in net, endured a collision with Cody McLeod, who went crashing into the crease after his skate clipped Trevor Daley's. The 23-year-old goalie needed a second or two to regroup but stayed in the goal.
Physicality became a prominent subplot of the second period. How rough did it get? Even 40-year-old Matt Cullen, by no means a center eager to engage in big hits, flattened a Predators defenseman — Mattias Ekholm presumably became the target because he cross-checked Cullen in the back several times moments earlier.
Nick Bonino, who looked incapable of standing on his left foot when he headed to the dressing room after blocking a shot in the first period of Game 2, returned to the Penguins' bench for the start of the second. He took a lap around the ice before the puck drop and stomped his skate down a couple times to see how the foot held up.
Neither Conor Sheary nor Jake Guentzel sent the puck toward Nashville's net with any particular gusto late in the first period of Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Final, but as coach Mike Sullivan insisted several times earlier in the playoffs, shots create chaos, which sometimes leads to offensive opportunities.
Guentzel jammed what looked like a harmless backhand at the near post past Pekka Rinne to tie the score with three minutes and 24 seconds left before the first intermission on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena. Conor Sheary created Guentzel's putback chance with a tight-angle shot he snapped at Rinne seconds earlier.
Guentzel goal pic.twitter.com/DajFXOWSNw— steph (@myregularface) June 1, 2017
Guentzel ties it up. Rinne has to stop that. pic.twitter.com/losRhR73fj— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) June 1, 2017
Their attempts came during a flurry of activity for the Penguins, who trailed, 30-17, in shot attempts and 18-12 in pucks on goal after 20 minutes. They went eight minutes without a shot attempt during the middle of the period but created chances in bunches early and late in the frame.
Pontus Aberg scored one of Nashville's prettier goals of the playoffs to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the Penguins 13 minutes into the game.
The 23-year-old Aberg, a Swede, made 22-year-old Olli Maatta, from rival Finland, look pretty bad in the process.
Beautiful net drive by Aberg. Slick goal. pic.twitter.com/xlN1ijUyU5— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 1, 2017
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan used a little angry smirk to hide his anger at the referees after both Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz went to the penalty box midway through the first period.Kunitz deserved the cross-checking minor he earned for his hit on P.K. Subban. What Malkin did to merit penalty proved less obvious.
During the ensuing five-on-three penalty kill, Nick Bonino blocked a shot with his left foot/ankle and needed assistance to get off the ice.
penalties against Malkin and Kunitz in one GIF pic.twitter.com/uukKgKca5M— steph (@myregularface) June 1, 2017
Boninoshot block pic.twitter.com/IhhgOSd3Hi— steph(@myregularface) June 1, 2017
It didn't help the referees' cause that they let Nashville's Matt Irwin slide on a questionable hit on Matt Cullen minutes earlier.
A power play two minutes into the first period gave the Penguins more offensive zone time and scoring chances than they likely accumulated in their previous two period against Nashville, but none of the opportunities produced goals.
The Penguins, held without a shot attempt until they received the power play, tallied one shot on goal and three attempts while they had the man advantage. They then held the offensive zone for another minute and kept the Predators under near-constant pressure when not possessing the puck.
Shortly after the Predators finally cleared their zone, they managed to send Matt Cullen to the dressing room for a brief check-up. Matt Irwin left Cullen crumpled on the ice after a hit from behind into the boards. Cullen returned to the bench relatively quickly.
Irwin hits Cullen in the numbers…no penalty pic.twitter.com/CLYJpcf9Z3— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) June 1, 2017
If recent history is any indication, the Penguins should go into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night with plenty of confidence.
The Penguins have won Game 2 in six straight playoff series. Their only Game 2 loss under Mike Sullivan came in the coach's first series behind the bench against the New York Rangers last season.
It's a pivotal point in any series — and not just because Justin Bieber announced his team of choice for the Final.
BIEBER HAS DECLARED HIS ALLEGIANCE. (via IG/justinbieber) pic.twitter.com/NbgVc7kxTf— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 31, 2017
Before Game 1, preparation is largely theoretical. Coaches watch hours of video, but they can only make educated guesses about how their opponent will actually play.
After Game 1, they have 60 minutes of tangible evidence of what they're in for.
In those situations, the Penguins have thrived.
"I think that's just part of the process of being in a seven-game series," Sullivan said. "We're trying to do our due diligence. What can we learn from it? How can we improve our team? Do we need to make any adjustments? Do we have to game plan differently? Those are the discussions we have behind the scenes in between games to try to help our team continue to have success."
If the Penguins are to have success in Game 2, one area where they'll need to improve is shot generation. They managed only 12 in a 5-3 victory in Game 1.
Two optional practices failed to hint at the lineup tweaks Sullivan ultimately unveiled for Game 2. He put Bryan Rust back up with Sidney Crosby, bumped Chris Kunitz down to Evgeni Malkin's line and placed Scott Wilson on the fourth line with Matt Cullen and Patric Hornqvist. Carl Hagelin again served as a scratch.
Given more than 24 hours to dissect their 5-3 loss in Game 1, the Predators stood by their belief that a comparable performance in Game 2 would yield a better result.
They held the Penguins to their lowest shot total (12) since Oct. 28, 2008, when the Penguins tallied 11 in a 2-1 loss to San Jose.
"When we're on our game, they can't play with us," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "If we keep building on that speed we used a lot, and we get the pucks deep and then work their defense, I think we're going to be successful tonight."
One element Ekholm addressed as an area in need of improvement: Neutral-zone puck management.
"We know that we can't turn the puck over too much in the neutral zone, because they're going to counter quick," he said. "That's something we've got to learn, and I think we're going to be better at it tonight.
"We really thought we played a decent game. Can we be better? Yeah, I'm sure we can. But if we keep doing a lot of the things we did the other night, I think we're going to find success."
Ekholm spent a team-high seven minutes and 52 seconds of five-on-five play on the ice against Evgeni Malkin; defensive partner P.K. Subban followed at 7:37, according to www.naturalstattrick.com.
Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, dealt with 8:25 of five-on-five ice time against defenseman Ryan Ellis and 7:37 against Roman Josi.
"They have different kinds of styles," Josi said of defending the star centers. "Crosby, I mean, he's obviously the best player in the world, so he does everything well. He's always dangerous. He always makes great passes. He's hard to defend down low with his cutbacks, and he's really fast and really strong on his skates. Same with Malkin — he's a big guy, and he's strong and really skilled. He can beat you one on one."
Both Sullivan and Nashville coach Peter Laviolette hinted at particular matchups they consider advantageous, but neither expounded on how much of a chess match they actually expect for Game 2.
Much like Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey a day earlier, Laviolette declined to delve into strategy talk with reporters.
"No disrespect, but I'm not going to go through X's and O's with the media," said the coach, who also passed on a chance to speak about what the Predators did well defensively in even general terms.