PITTSBURGH — Rookie forward Jake Guentzel continued his torrid postseason pace, scoring twice Wednesday night to help the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 and take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin scored 15 seconds apart in the third period at PPG Paints Arena as Pittsburgh again struggled for long stretches before finding a way to win.
Guentzel’s league-leading 12 postseason goals have him two shy of Dino Ciccarelli‘s rookie record, and his five playoff game winners are a rookie record.
Under siege through two periods, Pens goalie Matt Murray held the fort until Pittsburgh took over in the third, and he finished with 37 saves. Pontus Aberg scored for Nashville, and Preds goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 21 of 25 shots before being replaced by backup Juuse Saros, who made two saves.
How it happened: For the second straight game, the Predators outplayed the Penguins much of the night. The Penguins’ power play went 0-for-5 with two shots through 40 minutes, and neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin registered a shot through the first two periods, while Malkin lost seven of eight faceoffs in that span.
Despite the struggles, Pittsburgh appeared to get a lift from Nick Bonino, who hobbled to the locker room early in the game after taking a P.K. Subban slap shot off the left foot. Bonino returned briefly late in the opening period and appeared fine when he skated back out for the second.
Then came the opening minutes of the third, which ultimately decided the game. Malkin made up for his earlier ineffectiveness, finishing a 2-on-1 rush with a snipe that ended Rinne’s night.
Murray dominating goalie battle: Penguins rookie Murray is outplaying his veteran counterpart, and it isn’t close. Murray was a standout early, making 18 stops in the first period, none bigger than a larcenous left-pad rob on Filip Forsberg in the closing seconds of the period off a rebound of Aberg’s shot. Those back-to-back saves accounted for two of the seven stops Murray made in the final 34 seconds of the period.
How good was Murray? It took a remarkable individual effort from Aberg to open the scoring with 7:03 left in the first. Crossing the blue line, Aberg went outside and beat Olli Maatta down the wing before outwaiting a sprawling Murray to give the Predators their first lead of the series.
That lead ended with 3:24 left in the first period when Guentzel scored his first of the night. Rinne appeared porous on Guentzel’s tying goal, then kicking out a fat rebound directly to the rookie for his second of the night.
Conn Smythe watch: 1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins: Despite struggling for much of Game 2, he scored an important goal in the third and is still the best player in these playoffs. 2. Jake Guentzel, Penguins; 3. Sidney Crosby, Penguins; 4. Nick Bonino, Penguins; 5. Pekka Rinne, Predators
What’s next: After Pittsburgh held serve at home, the series swings to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where the Predators will host Game 3 on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Nashville is in a tough spot, as teams that have won the first two games of the Final at home have won 34 of 37 series.