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Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

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PITTSBURGH -- The night started with a catfish throw.

It ended with haymaker after haymaker -- both literal and proverbial -- from Sidney Crosby and the rest of the resilient Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defending champions provided an emphatic reminder of why they're on the cusp of history with a 6-0 demolition of the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 3-2 lead. Pittsburgh will have a chance to become the first franchise to win back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1998 when the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday night.

"Still a lot of work to be done but the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that's important," Crosby said after collecting three assists. "We know we're going to be facing a desperate team."

One that can't get back to the creature comforts of Smashville fast enough. The Penguins chased Pekka Rinne with a three-goal barrage in the first period and kept it going against backup Juuse Saros to push the Predators to the brink of elimination for the first time during their run to the final.

"I don't know if anybody shakes off a game like that that quickly," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "Nobody feels good leaving the building playing the way we did."

All the good mojo Rinne generated while helping Nashville rally to tie the series at 2 vanished in a span of 20 minutes. Justin Schultz beat Rinne just 91 seconds in , Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin followed before the first period horn sounded, continuing Rinne's baffling inability to play effectively in Pittsburgh during the series. Rinne has stopped just 34 of the 45 pucks that have come his way during seven forgettable periods at PPG Paints Arena.

"It was just one of those games where they were going and we were trying to find it and didn't really get it going at any point," Rinne said.

Not that the Penguins gave them much of a chance.

Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel -- just as linemate Malkin predicted -- and 35-year-old playoff newbie Ron Hainsey also scored for Pittsburgh. It was Crosby who sent the message -- with his vision, his creativity and, oddly, his fists.

The two-time MVP's eventful night included becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final, a two-minute roughing penalty for trying to dribble Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban's head on the ice near the end of the first period and what he said was an inadvertent flip of a water bottle onto the ice during play.

"I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has and he's not taking anything for granted," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

And apparently not taking any more stuff from Subban either. The two stars became tangled up behind the Nashville goal late in the first with Crosby on top. He attempted to extract himself but couldn't, then unleashed a torrent of punches at Subban's head.

"He was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot," Crosby said. "I don't know what he was trying to do. ... I don't know what he was trying to do to my ankle. I was in some kind of lock there."

Subban, who claimed Crosby was complaining about Subban's breath during a Game 3 run-in, just kind of sat there and took it. The exchange ended with both players heading to the dressing room with minor penalties. They watched on TV as Malkin's wrist shot with 10 seconds left in the first gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 edge it never came close to giving up.

"That is, hands down, the best game that we've played in this series to this point," Sullivan said.

Saros hardly fared any better. Sheary took a pretty feed from Crosby and sent it by Saros 1:19 into the second to push Pittsburgh's lead to four. Kessel ended a six-game goal drought 8:02 into the second. The score had been predicted by Malkin and it came just seconds after Crosby threw a water bottle onto the ice as the play went by Pittsburgh's bench, a move he told referees was unintentional.

When Hainsey, who waited 907 regular-season games before reaching the playoffs for the first time this season, tapped in a pass from Malkin to make it 6-0, the stage was set for the Penguins to return to familiar territory.

The franchise has won all four of its Cups on the road. A shot at a fifth awaits Sunday, though it'll hardly be easy.

"It's a good game but it's still not done," Malkin said. "We still need one more game, one more win."

The Predators are 9-1 at home in the playoffs, a place they will need to be a haven once again if they want to extend their improbable Cup run back to Pittsburgh.

"The real hockey starts now," Subban said. "You're in the Cup final, this is what it's all about. It's about going back and forth."

Notes
Matt Murray finished with 24 saves. ... Crosby now has 20 career points in the Stanley Cup Final, a new franchise record and one more than team owner Mario Lemieux. ... Crosby also moved into a tie with Denis Potvin for 19th on the all-time career playoff scoring list. ... The team that has won Game 5 in a 2-2 series has gone on to win the Cup 71 percent (17 of 24) of the time since 1939. ... The teams combined for 100 penalty minutes (58 for Nashville, 42 for Pittsburgh). ... Guentzel's assist moved him into a tie with Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for the most playoff points by a rookie in NHL history (21). ... Penguins F Nick Bonino missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Nashville F Colin Wilson made his series debut after missing the first four games with an undisclosed injury. Wilson skated on the fourth line with Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk.

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.