PITTSBURGH — A third-period eruption knocked Pekka Rinne from the net and gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-0 series advantage in the Stanley Cup final.
The Penguins beat Rinne three times in the first 3:28 of the third, scoring a 4-1 Game 2 win over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night.
Jake Guentzel led the rally with the second of his two goals, Evgeni Malkin and Scott Wilson also finding the back of the net.
Guentzel set a new rookie record with his fifth-game-winning goal of the playoffs and Chris Kunitz added two assists.
Rinne gave up four goals on 25 shots and was outclassed again by Matt Murray, who stopped 37-of-38 shots.
Pontus Aberg scored the lone goal for the Preds, who host their first ever Stanley Cup final game under dire circumstances on Saturday night.
The defending champs just got away with a win in Game 1 despite going 37 minutes without a shot. They came out quickly out in Game 2, firing five shots in the first six minutes with quality offensive zone pressure.
There to thwart their early opportunities was Rinne.
The 34-year-old was huge in helping the Preds advance to their first Stanley Cup final, but struggled to the tune of four goals on only 11 shots in the series-opening loss. He snared a deflected Phil Kessel shot on an early Penguins power play though and then came up with back-to-back stops on Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist, the latter on a wraparound.
Nashville had a nervous moment at the midway point of the first when P.K. Subban took a cross-check to the neck from Kunitz. Down on the ice in obvious discomfort, Subban grabbed his neck and required attention from the team trainer when he finally returned to the bench.
A Subban blast with the ensuing power play would briefly hobble Penguins centre Nick Bonino, who tried crawling to the bench before later returning for the second period.
The Preds didn’t score with their partial five-on-three advantage — Malkin also drew a questionable penalty for hooking — but they broke through with their first lead of the series on a goal from Aberg. The former second round pick undressed Maatta on a drive to the net and then out-waited Murray for the 1-0 lead.
Nashville has gotten contributions from those like Aberg throughout the playoffs. The 23-year-old was among 17 Preds with at least one goal this spring.
The Pens struck back late in the period on yet another goal from Guentzel. The 22-year-old somehow got a rebound attempt through an opening between Rinne’s left arm and midsection. The goaltender was hugging the left post and seemed to have blocked any gaps.
Pittsburgh still had as many shots (12) in one period of Game 2 as they managed in all of Game 1.
The Preds speed and dogged puck pursuit caused problems for the Kris Letang-less Pens defence and Murray had to come up big on multiple occasions. He stopped a rushing Filip Forsberg with the glove and then got that same yellow, black and white glove on a powerful Roman Josi shot from the point.
The Pens had trouble getting anything going at the other end with head coach Mike Sullivan eventually flipping Guentzel onto Crosby’s wing in hopes of sparking something.
Even when they had a power-play advantage, the Pens generated little against a Preds penalty kill — 0 for 5 through two periods with only two shots — that’s been excellent throughout the playoffs.
The Predators biggest advantage in the series was their vaunted defence and like in Game 1, it seemed to be paying dividends in Game 2. The group, with help from an engaged forward group, limited shots in and around Rinne, won puck battles along the boards and escaped the defensive zone with seeming ease.
Neither Malkin or Sidney Crosby had a shot after two periods.
None of that mattered when Guentzel struck again 10 seconds into the third, slamming home a juicy Rinne rebound.
Guentzel was already leading all players in goals this post-season, his 12th marking the second-most ever for a rookie. The American, who also scored the game-winning, go-ahead goal in Game 1, drew within two points (19) of the NHL rookie record for points in a single playoff.
Wilson upped the lead to two a few minutes later, finishing a rush with Kessel. The shot went off Predators’ skate and between the pads of Rinne, who gave up another to Malkin off the rush 15 seconds after that.
A crowd decked in yellow and waving similar coloured towels howled as Rinne’s night came to an end. He was replaced by Juuse Saros.
Another goal from Patric Hornqvist was overturned on offside. The three-goal explosion from the highest scoring team in hockey during the regular season — occurring in three minutes and 28 seconds — mirrored the first period in Game 1 when the Penguins busted out for three in less than five minutes.