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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.

Best of NHL: Penguins blow lead, rally to top Rangers in overtime

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Best of NHL: Penguins blow lead, rally to top Rangers in overtime

NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby scored the tying goal with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Evgeni Malkin put in the winner 58 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the struggling New York Rangers 5-4 on Tuesday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin also scored for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who handed New York (1-5-1) its fourth straight loss.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh turned the puck over in overtime and Kessel set up Malkin for the game-winning goal. Just before that, the Rangers iced the puck, leading to a faceoff in their zone.

Michael Grabner put New York ahead 4-3 when he and David Desharnais completed a nifty give-and-go at the 8-minute mark of the third period.

Desharnais, Pavel Buchnevich and J.T. Miller scored in a span of 2:30 as the Rangers got three straight goals early in the second to take a 3-2 lead.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray and counterpart Henrik Lundqvist each made 28 saves in the first of four meetings this season between the division rivals (see full recap).

Devils top Lightning in shootout
NEWARK, N.J. -- Kyle Palmieri scored the lone goal in a shootout, lifting the New Jersey Devils to a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Drew Stafford scored twice in regulation as New Jersey improved to 5-1-0. Palmieri and Brian Gibbons each had a goal in the first period, and Cory Schneider made 33 saves.

Vladimir Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored for Tampa Bay, which had its four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 5-1-1.

Kucherov's goal was his eighth in seven games. He has scored at least once in every game this season, and the 24-year-old right wing became the sixth player in modern NHL history to score at least one goal in the first seven games of a season.

Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Ken Hodge and Tony Tanti are the others. Lemieux holds the record with at least one goal in the first 12 games of the 1992-93 season.

Peter Budaj made his first start of the season for the Lightning and had 30 saves (see full recap).

Anderson helps Maple Leafs blank Capitals
WASHINGTON -- Connor Brown scored the game-winning goal in the third period and Frederik Andersen stopped all 30 shots he faced for the shutout as the Toronto Maple Leafs continued their tremendous start by beating the Washington Capitals 2-0 on Tuesday night.

Toronto has won five of its first six games. Washington has now lost two in a row since top defenseman Matt Niskanen went out with a long-term upper-body injury.

After getting a promotion to the third line, Brown picked up his second goal of the season and broke a 0-0 tie with 14:07 left in the third. Brown corralled a rebound of Morgan Rielly's point shot and poked the puck between Braden Holtby's legs.

Holtby made 28 saves but couldn't help as the Capitals' offense couldn't cash in on limited high-quality chances. Nazem Kadri scored an empty-net goal in the final minute (see full recap).

Michal Neuvirth earns his Ric Flair robe as Flyers roll again at home

Michal Neuvirth earns his Ric Flair robe as Flyers roll again at home

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Every season the Flyers come up with a unique prop handed down from one player of the game to the next following each home victory.

Tuesday night, it was goaltender Michal Neuvirth who was rewarded with the Ric Flair black and silver feathered robe, made popular by the WWE superstar. Neuvirth’s 40-save performance helped pave the way for the Flyers' 5-1 victory over the Panthers (see observations).

“I think Neuvy gave us some confidence,” Claude Giroux said. “He made some big saves for us. He was solid. We’re happy for him that he played a great game. We were hoping to give him a shutout in the end there. He stood on his head tonight.”   

The robe, hand-tailored by the daughter of Flyers head equipment manager Derek Settlemyre, seems rather appropriate in the manner in which the Flyers have body-slammed their opponents in their first two games at the Wells Fargo Center, outscoring Washington and Florida by a combined score of 13-3.

“I think we have a lot of depth. We can roll all four lines,” said Sean Couturier, one of 10 Flyers to register a point. “Our depth has been really good and we've got to keep it that way.”

“It’s fun when you’re winning and making plays. That’s the biggest thing,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored his first goal of the season on a give-and-go with Wayne Simmonds. “As a team, we’re making a lot of plays and Coach is giving us the leeway to do that, and like you said, it’s fun hockey out there.”

The Panthers could have seized some of the Flyers' early momentum. With roughly 6:45 remaining in the second period, Gostisbehere broke up a potential 2-on-1, which led to Valtteri Filppula’s long stretch pass to Giroux, who was all alone at the Panthers' blue line. Giroux skated in and snapped a shot through Roberto Luongo’s five-hole to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead, when just seconds earlier the Panthers had a chance to cut the Flyers' lead to a single goal.

“It was up-and-down hockey,” Giroux said. “It was fun hockey to play and after we got that first goal, we kind of relaxed and started playing.”

Playing for the first time in 12 days, Neuvirth certainly needed a goal to relax. Not only was he fighting the puck early on, but also a few butterflies.

“When you don’t start for awhile, you start questioning yourself,” Neuvirth said. “I was a little bit more nervous than what I was used to before the game, but I handled it well.” 

Tuesday’s game may not have been predetermined WWE style, but the Flyers certainly followed Dave Hakstol’s script, as they had the Panthers pinned to the ice leading, 4-0, after two periods — scoring three of those goals off the rush (see highlights). Coming into Tuesday’s game, Florida led the NHL averaging 42 shots on net.

“I said it this morning, they’re a dangerous team,” Hakstol said. “They make a lot of plays. They put a lot of pucks to the net. Sometimes a shot chart isn’t everything. If you can defend and get a save when you need it, and then turn around in transition and get after them at the other end of the rink, you can generate some chances and we did that tonight.” 

As Neuvirth walked away for the night, he left the gimmicky robe hanging from his locker room stall.

It’s not exactly a look that would inspire confidence, especially with the words “Nature Boy” written across the back shoulder.

Simmonds update
Simmonds left Tuesday’s game for precautionary reasons with approximately eight minutes remaining in the third period because of a lower-body injury. He’ll be evaluated further over the next day or two.

Simmonds has missed just one game since the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

A point is a point
Defenseman Robert Hagg collected his first NHL point by simply getting in the way. Hagg collected the secondary assist after he blocked Mark Pysyk’s shot that led to a Flyers rush and Gostisbehere’s eventual goal.

“I mean, yeah, I’ll take it,” Hagg said. “It’s not going to say in the newspaper how I made it, so I’ll take it.”

With Hagg's assist, 16 of the Flyers' 19 skaters have recorded at least a point this season. Only Michael Raffl, Radko Gudas and Travis Sanheim have yet to crack the scoresheet.