The Pittsburgh Penguins came one step closer to repeating as Stanley Cup Champions Wednesday night when they defeated the Nashville Predators by a final score of 4-1. For the second straight game, the Nashville Predators were the better team for the majority of the game, but were unable to pull out the victory against the Penguins. The Penguins offense was held in check for most of the game and had no answers for the Nashville defense until ten seconds into the third period. Penguins’ rookie Jake Guentzel broke the 1-1 tie with the quickest goal scored to start a period in Penguins’ franchise history. Just over three minutes later, the Penguins scored two goals 15 seconds apart to cap a Game 2 victory.
The Penguins will now head to Nashville in hopes of taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, while the Predators will look to extend this series past the minimum four games. If Nashville looks to have any hope of making a comeback in this series against the Penguins, they must use their home crowd to their advantage. The Predators are in their first Stanley Cup Final as a franchise with only captain Mike Fisher having prior finals experience. Nashville must show the Penguins why they have been 7-1 at home through these playoffs by getting off to a quick start and having their fan base behind them.
The one player responsible for the Penguins 2-0 series lead has been rookie standout Jake Guentzel. Guentzel has been the leading goal scorer throughout the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 12 goals and now owns the record for most game-winning goals in the postseason by a rookie with five. Besides his abilities on the ice, he has shown a professionalism off the ice that not many 22-year-olds in the NHL have. After an eight-game goal drought from Guentzel, he has scored the game-winner in the first two games of the finals and has helped position the Penguins to repeat as champions. The OCRegister wrote about the Penguins Game 2 victory and quoted Guentzel on his performance throughout these playoffs.
“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.”
The main reason the Predators have fallen behind 2-0 this series to the Penguins is the subpar play from goaltender Pekka Rinne. Rinne has been everything and more the Predators could have asked from a goalie during this postseason up until these finals against the Penguins. The 34-year-old entered the Stanley Cup Finals with a.947 goals against average, but during this series, his average has dropped to an abysmal.777. To make matters worse, Rinne has never won a game against the Penguins in which he has started, but head coach Peter Laviolette still has faith in him heading into Game 3. If the Predators are to have any chance in this series moving forward against the Penguins, Rinne must find a way to get back into his goaltending groove from the first three rounds of these playoffs.
The Penguins goaltender, on the other hand, has been phenomenal since returning to the pipes this postseason. Still considered a rookie, Matt Murray joined a short list of players to reach 20 wins in the postseason before their 24th birthday. If Murray finishes out this series and leads the Penguins to two more victories, he will become the franchise’s all-time winningest goalie in the Stanley Cup Finals. At the age of 23, Murray has not shied away from the fact that he still gets butterflies before the start of a game. Ken Campbell of HockeyNews wrote about Murray’s superb play this postseason for the Penguins and quoted him on his pre-game nerves.
“I get nervous before pretty much any game. Nerves is one way to put it, but a lot of excitement, too. We get to go out and play the game we love on the biggest stage.”
The Penguins are just two games away from becoming the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings of the late 90’s, while the Predators are hoping to win their first Cup Final in franchise history. Game 3 is Saturday night 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
[Featured Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]