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Stanley Cup Notebook: Opportunistic Penguins Grab Control Of Series

Posted: 12:01 PM, Jun 01, 2017
Updated: 2017-06-01 17:09:22Z

The Predators have controlled the action for much of the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, but the explosive Penguins have continued their opportunistic playoff run, making their chances count for a 2-0 series lead.

Don't get me wrong, opportunistic is absolutely a skill, and the Penguins have perfected it. The NHL's highest scoring team has been outshot consistently in these playoffs, including the first two games against the Predators, but keep winning thanks to their quick-strike ability.

With the two wins against Nashville, Pittsburgh improves to 6-1 in the playoffs when getting outshot by 10 or more shots.

Their explosiveness is at once mesmerizing and demoralizing. They can go long stretches with absolutely nothing going and then, BAM, the puck is in your net. In game one, the Penguins endured a 37:00 drought without a single shot but also scored three goals in 4:11 at the end of the first period to take a 3-0 lead, the largest deficit the Preds had faced the entire postseason.

It was a deficit that was equaled in game two thanks to another Pittsburgh flurry. Jake Guentzel's rebound goal :10 into the third period opening the floodgates. Two more goals followed in short order, three in all in the opening 3:28 of the period, forcing the Predators to pull goaltender Pekka Rinne and regroup heading back to Nashville.

They need to figure something out in a hurry. Teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final have an all-time series record of 45-5. Teams that have won the first two games at home are 34-3 in the Final.

The Predators have to figure something out and fast.

"We're going back home, we're going to win the next game and we're gonna go from there," a resolute P.K. Subban said after game two.

This series is not over yet, but if the Preds' don't respond in game three at home it will be.

FROM HERO TO GOAT

Rinne has been the Predators' best player through out this playoff run. He had stopped nearly 95 percent of the shots he'd faced through the first three rounds.

But his save percentage against the Penguins is .777, the fourth lowest through multiple games of a Stanley Cup Final in over 60 years. Some of them have not been his fault, the Preds have given up an own goal in each game. But Rinne is clearly fighting the puck, and the slump is coming at the worst possible time.

Rinne has struggled against the Penguins before. He's just 1-7-2 against the Penguins in his career, with that one win coming in a relief appearance. He's giving up nearly four goals a game in those contests, exactly the number he allowed in both games one and two.

So when he was pulled in game two, many asked if he would get benched for game three? Don't count on it.

Peter Laviolette refuses to discuss questions about his lineups, but did offer this on his star goalie late Wednesday night, "Pekka has been terrific through this entire playoffs. I think there's things we can do better. All three goals in the third period, we could have done something better. We're leaving them odd man numbered rushes. I believe all of them were odd, three-on-twos and two-on-ones makes it more difficult."

Rinne has earned the right to play this series out. Just how long the series lasts will likely depend on whether he can regain his previous form before game three Saturday 7 p.m.

Laviolette should consider other changes to his lineup. The fourth line of Cody McLeod, Vernon Fiddler and Austin Watson has looked slow and out of place all series. It might be time to move Frederick Gaudreau down to center the fourth line and move the speedy Harry Zolnierczyk back into the lineup.

JAKE THE GREAT

Guentzel's early third period strike was his second goal of the night and third in two games against the Predators. He also scored the game-winner with 3:17 left to win game one.

That goal snapped an eight-game scoreless streak for the 22-year-old Guentzel. Some had even suggested the rookie forward be benched for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final. My how fortunes can turn.

Guentzel now has five game-winning goals in the playoffs, the most by a rookie in NHL history. The Omaha-born forward's 12 goals in the playoffs lead the Penguins and is a new postseason record for an American rookie.

In a lineup that features superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, it's Guentzel that's the early favorite to win the Conn Smythe as MVP at the end of this series.

It's contributions like his that make this team so difficult to contain, as the Predators are finding out.