NHL Wrap

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

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PITTSBURGH -- The night started with a catfish throw.

It ended with haymaker after haymaker -- both literal and proverbial -- from Sidney Crosby and the rest of the resilient Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defending champions provided an emphatic reminder of why they're on the cusp of history with a 6-0 demolition of the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 3-2 lead. Pittsburgh will have a chance to become the first franchise to win back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1998 when the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday night.

"Still a lot of work to be done but the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that's important," Crosby said after collecting three assists. "We know we're going to be facing a desperate team."

One that can't get back to the creature comforts of Smashville fast enough. The Penguins chased Pekka Rinne with a three-goal barrage in the first period and kept it going against backup Juuse Saros to push the Predators to the brink of elimination for the first time during their run to the final.

"I don't know if anybody shakes off a game like that that quickly," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "Nobody feels good leaving the building playing the way we did."

All the good mojo Rinne generated while helping Nashville rally to tie the series at 2 vanished in a span of 20 minutes. Justin Schultz beat Rinne just 91 seconds in , Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin followed before the first period horn sounded, continuing Rinne's baffling inability to play effectively in Pittsburgh during the series. Rinne has stopped just 34 of the 45 pucks that have come his way during seven forgettable periods at PPG Paints Arena.

"It was just one of those games where they were going and we were trying to find it and didn't really get it going at any point," Rinne said.

Not that the Penguins gave them much of a chance.

Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel -- just as linemate Malkin predicted -- and 35-year-old playoff newbie Ron Hainsey also scored for Pittsburgh. It was Crosby who sent the message -- with his vision, his creativity and, oddly, his fists.

The two-time MVP's eventful night included becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final, a two-minute roughing penalty for trying to dribble Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban's head on the ice near the end of the first period and what he said was an inadvertent flip of a water bottle onto the ice during play.

"I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has and he's not taking anything for granted," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

And apparently not taking any more stuff from Subban either. The two stars became tangled up behind the Nashville goal late in the first with Crosby on top. He attempted to extract himself but couldn't, then unleashed a torrent of punches at Subban's head.

"He was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot," Crosby said. "I don't know what he was trying to do. ... I don't know what he was trying to do to my ankle. I was in some kind of lock there."

Subban, who claimed Crosby was complaining about Subban's breath during a Game 3 run-in, just kind of sat there and took it. The exchange ended with both players heading to the dressing room with minor penalties. They watched on TV as Malkin's wrist shot with 10 seconds left in the first gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 edge it never came close to giving up.

"That is, hands down, the best game that we've played in this series to this point," Sullivan said.

Saros hardly fared any better. Sheary took a pretty feed from Crosby and sent it by Saros 1:19 into the second to push Pittsburgh's lead to four. Kessel ended a six-game goal drought 8:02 into the second. The score had been predicted by Malkin and it came just seconds after Crosby threw a water bottle onto the ice as the play went by Pittsburgh's bench, a move he told referees was unintentional.

When Hainsey, who waited 907 regular-season games before reaching the playoffs for the first time this season, tapped in a pass from Malkin to make it 6-0, the stage was set for the Penguins to return to familiar territory.

The franchise has won all four of its Cups on the road. A shot at a fifth awaits Sunday, though it'll hardly be easy.

"It's a good game but it's still not done," Malkin said. "We still need one more game, one more win."

The Predators are 9-1 at home in the playoffs, a place they will need to be a haven once again if they want to extend their improbable Cup run back to Pittsburgh.

"The real hockey starts now," Subban said. "You're in the Cup final, this is what it's all about. It's about going back and forth."

Notes
Matt Murray finished with 24 saves. ... Crosby now has 20 career points in the Stanley Cup Final, a new franchise record and one more than team owner Mario Lemieux. ... Crosby also moved into a tie with Denis Potvin for 19th on the all-time career playoff scoring list. ... The team that has won Game 5 in a 2-2 series has gone on to win the Cup 71 percent (17 of 24) of the time since 1939. ... The teams combined for 100 penalty minutes (58 for Nashville, 42 for Pittsburgh). ... Guentzel's assist moved him into a tie with Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for the most playoff points by a rookie in NHL history (21). ... Penguins F Nick Bonino missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Nashville F Colin Wilson made his series debut after missing the first four games with an undisclosed injury. Wilson skated on the fourth line with Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk.

Stanley Cup Final: Predators handle Penguins to even series at 2-2

Stanley Cup Final: Predators handle Penguins to even series at 2-2

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Frederick Gaudreau sure is doing his best to earn his own locker with the Nashville Predators with a Stanley Cup Final debut for the ages.

For now, he insists he is happy enough just to sit on the floor as long as he plays.

An undrafted free agent playing in just his sixth postseason game, Gaudreau scored the go-ahead goal 3:45 into the second period and Pekka Rinne made 23 often-spectacular saves as the Predators beat the Penguins 4-1 on Monday night to even the series at 2-2.

It's now a best-of-three sprint to the Stanley Cup, and Nashville is riding a wave of momentum after outscoring the defending champions 9-2 in the Games 3 and 4 of their Final debut.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

Gaudreau, a 24-year-old rookie, only has a chair in the locker room, but he now is the second player in NHL history to score his first three career goals in a Stanley Cup Final, joining Johnny Harms with the 1944 Blackhawks.

"He's been unbelievable for us the way he's come in, and he's just been so good, timely goals and composed," Nashville captain Mike Fisher said. "He definitely belongs, and he's been a huge part of our success."

Gaudreau is also just the third rookie to score game-winning goals in consecutive games in the Stanley Cup Final since the NHL took over sole possession of the trophy in 1926-27. Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel did it in the first two games of this series and Roy Conacher did it for Boston in Games 3, 4 and 5 against Toronto in 1939.

Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, which improved to 9-1 at home and roared back after dropping the first two games of the series on the road.

"We were in a tough hole against a really good team, came home and took care of the home games with the help of all our great fans," Rinne said. "It's a great feeling. We played two really good games."

Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby scored his first goal in the series after not getting a shot on goal in Game 3. The goal was his first in the Stanley Cup Final since June 4, 2009, a span of 12 games, but it wasn't enough as the Penguins lost two straight for the second time this postseason. Goalie Matt Murray lost consecutive games for the first time in his young career.

"It's hard to win when you score one goal," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought tonight of all nights, we generated the most chances of the highest quality."

Nashville tapped country singer Dierks Bentley as the latest star to sing the national anthem, while Jason Aldean waved the towel to rev up the crowd. Former NBA star and TV commentator Charles Barkley also was on hand , accepting NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's invitation to watch in person. Carrie Underwood admitted during the first intermission that she didn't get Fisher, her husband, a birthday present on Monday -- holding out hope that a Stanley Cup championship celebration would do the trick in coming days.

"That's all I wanted for my birthday," Fisher said afterward of the big win.

Craig Smith ricocheted a puck off Murray's pads that Jarnkrok tapped in at 14:51 to start the fans yelling louder. Pittsburgh lost a challenge for goalie interference.

Just 66 seconds later, Crosby tied it up for Pittsburgh on a dazzling breakaway. He skated in on Rinne, holding the puck, faking a slap shot and then slipping one past the goalie for his eighth goal and 24th point of the playoffs. He also moved into 20th all-time in NHL playoff points but the Predators clamped down after that.

Rinne kept it tied in the early minutes of the second with a stop of Guentzel before a big save on Chris Kunitz on a breakaway. And then came Gaudreau's goal, confirmed only after the horn sounded and officials reviewed the play. They ruled Gaudreau's wraparound attempt slid the puck just over the line before Murray stopped it, giving Nashville a 2-1 lead 3:45 into the second.

"I heard it on the bench that it was possibly in the net," Gaudreau said. "I wasn't certain. When I heard the horn, I sort of thought it was in."

Crosby had another breakaway nearly midway through the period, and Rinne stopped him not once, but twice. Then the goalie slid to his right stopping Guentzel with an assist from Nashville defenseman Roman Josi. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin finished with six shots, but just the lone goal.

"It's a game of execution," Crosby said. "They capitalized on our mistakes, and we have to do the same."

Arvidsson made it a 3-1 Nashville lead with his first goal since the end of the first round. James Neal started the play, getting the puck to Fisher who fed the puck up to Arvidsson while falling to the ice. Arvidsson beat Murray under his glove, putting the puck just inside the right post at 13:08.

"If I make the save there, it could be a different game," Murray said.

Forsberg sealed the win with an empty-netter with 3:23 left.

Notes
Fisher, scoreless until the Final, now has four points with his fourth on his 37th birthday. ... With his goal, Crosby now has 161 career playoff points and moved past Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe, Al MacInnis and Bobby Smith for 20th all-time by himself. ... The Penguins now are 13-3 after a playoff loss under coach Mike Sullivan, and Murray is 7-1 in playoff games started after a loss. ... Rain kept the crowd outside from reaching the more than 50,000 who turned Saturday night for the first Stanley Cup Final game in Tennessee. Still, people filled three blocks of Broadway, even with Nashville opening up a downtown amphitheater for fans to watch. ... After the anthem, two catfish and one stuffed penguin hit the ice despite Nashville coach Peter Laviolette's video plea earlier Monday asking fans not to throw anything.

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins explode in 3rd period for 2-0 series lead

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins explode in 3rd period for 2-0 series lead

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PITTSBURGH -- By coach Peter Laviolette's math, the Nashville Predators have been pretty good for all but 10 minutes of the Stanley Cup Final.

It's not much. Unless you're playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then it's too much. Way too much.

The defending Stanley Cup champions needed just over three minutes at the start of the third period to turn a taut Game 2 into a runaway, beating Pekka Rinne three times in a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night to inch closer to becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back titles.

The barrage started with Jake Guentzel. Mired in an eight-game goal drought heading into the series, the 22-year-old Nebraska-born rookie provided the winner in Game 1 and again in Game 2 when he pounded home a rebound just 10 seconds into the third for his third of the series and 12th of the playoffs.

"It's crazy," said Guentzel, who has an NHL rookie record five game-winning goals this postseason. "You can't even put into words what it feels. But we know the ultimate goal is two more wins and they're going to be tough to get."

Only if Rinne turns back into Rinne. The 34-year-old spent the first three rounds of the playoffs helping carry Nashville to the Final for the first time. Now he's the biggest reason the Predators head back to "Smashville" for Game 3 on Saturday night reeling. After giving up four goals on 11 shots in Game 1, he allowed four more on 25 shots in Game 2. He was pulled when Evgeni Malkin ended Pittsburgh's surge with his ninth of the playoffs 3:28 into the third.

Rinne entered the series with a .947 save percentage in the postseason. Against Pittsburgh, it's at .777 and he remains winless in his career against the Penguins in games he's started.

"The limited chances they've had they've done a good job," Rinne said. "Overall these two games, like I said, it's disappointing to be down 2-0 but we have to be feeling still positive with the way we played as a whole and creating chances."

Asked twice afterward if he was committed to starting Rinne on Saturday, Laviolette stressed Rinne has been "terrific," adding there are plenty of things the Predators can do better in front of him like stopping the odd-man rushes that allowed the Penguins to take charge.

"There's a stretch they're able to gain some momentum, able to capitalize and be opportunistic and that swung two games in their favor," he said.

Pontus Aberg scored the lone goal for the Predators , who were once again undone by a sudden barrage from the NHL's highest-scoring team, though they haven't lost faith in Rinne. Defenseman P.K. Subban said the team was "extremely confident" and in the prospect of going home, where the Predators are 7-1 during the playoffs.

"We're going to win the next game and then we'll see what happens from there," Subban said.

It wouldn't take much to be better than what happened in Pittsburgh.

In Game 1, the Penguins pushed three goals by Rinne in a span of 4:11 in the first period to build a 3-0 lead. The Predators rallied to tie before Guentzel's go-ahead goal with 3:17 remaining put the Penguins ahead to stay.

This time, Pittsburgh's flurry came a little bit later. And it was once again led by the baby-faced son of a coach who has no problem shouldering the responsibility of playing alongside star Sidney Crosby.

The game was tied at 1 at the start of the third period when Guentzel jumped on a rebound to put Pittsburgh ahead. It was 1 second shy of the fastest goal to start a period in Final history.

Wilson was credited with his third of the playoffs just over 3 minutes later when a centering pass caromed off Nashville's Vernon Fiddler and by Rinne. Malkin's shot sent Rinne to the bench in favor of backup Juuse Saros, who made his playoff debut.

"When we score one, we don't stop," Malkin said. "We want to score more. The first shift in the third period, we score. We want more. It's our game. Never stop."

Pittsburgh vowed to put more pressure on Rinne than it managed in their 5-3 victory in Game 1, a win they managed despite going 37 minutes without throwing a single puck Rinne's way and none in the second period, the first time that's happened since the NHL started tracking shots in 1957.

The Penguins matched their entire shot total from the opener (12) by the end of the first period but still found themselves trying to keep up with the Predators. The Stanley Cup newbies were disappointed but not dismayed by their Game 1 loss, pointing to the way they carried play for long stretches as tangible proof they weren't just happy to be here.

The result was the kind of up-and-down play that showcased the speed on both sides and included more than a dash of antagonism, particularly early.

Nashville's Matt Irwin drilled Pittsburgh's Matt Cullen from behind into the boards in the first period, a hit that left the 40-year-old Cullen headed down the runway for a quick check but didn't result in a penalty. Minutes later, Penguins forward Chris Kunitz became tangled up with P.K. Subban and ended up cross-checking Subban in the head, part of a sequence that saw Malkin go off for hooking. Malkin and Subban even ended up fighting in the third period when things got out of hand.

It was a scene hard to imagine through the first two taut and chippy periods.

Pittsburgh stayed in it thanks to Matt Murray (37 saves) and when Pittsburgh returned to the ice for the start of the third they, as coach Mike Sullivan is fond of saying, "got to their game."

A style that now has the Penguins two victories away from the cusp of a dynasty.