PITTSBURGH — The most powerful offence in hockey is proving too much for Pekka Rinne to handle.
The Penguins erupted for three goals in the first three minutes 30 seconds of the third period, ending Rinne's night en route to a 4-1 win in Game 2 and 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup final. Rinne had been the hottest goalie in the playoffs coming into the final, but he's been hit for eight goals on only 36 shots in two games and badly outplayed by Matt Murray, who finished with 37 saves in Game 2.
"Pekka has been excellent for us all year long," Preds head coach Peter Laviolette said. "There's things that we could have done. All three goals in the third period were odd-man rushes."
Leading the way in that respect for Pittsburgh was Jake Guentzel, who added two more goals Wednesday to his NHL-leading total (12) this spring.
The 22-year-old tied the game 1-1 in the opening frame and then sparked the third period avalanche by beating Rinne 10 seconds in. Guentzel has the second-most goals ever for a rookie in one post-season and set a new rookie record with his fifth game-winning goal.
He's only two points (19) from matching the rookie mark for points in a single playoff, now with 19 points in 21 games.
"He's just continued to get better," Sidney Crosby said of his on-again, off-again linemate. "He's been given a lot of responsibility and he's done a great job of just continuing to improve and compete."
Guentzel was also the hero in Game 1, beating Rinne to break a 3-3 tie with just over three minutes left in regulation. He didn't start on Crosby's line in Game 2, but ended up there as the Pens offence stalled through two periods — contained by the Preds' fearsome defence.
An unheralded third round pick who grew up in Minnesota, Guentzel also sits directly to Crosby's left in the Penguins dressing room, a purposeful move by head coach Mike Sullivan, who likes his rookies to watch and learn from the captain.
Guentzel, who played college hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, was unknown to Crosby before the season began but finished behind only Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in goals and points per game among rookies (16 goals, 33 points in 40 games).
"He's not the biggest guy, but he plays bigger than he is and he's got great skill," Crosby said of Guentzel, who's listed at a seemingly generous 180 pounds. "His skill-set combined with the way he works allows him to get the chances he does and not only score from the perimeter, but he goes to those tough areas to earn those goals."
Though they're up 2-0 in the series, the Penguins have actually been on the receiving end for most of the six periods so far. They've just struck in quick succession, landing six of their nine goals in a span of about eight minutes. Scott Wilson followed up on Guentzel's go-ahead goal 3:03 later and Evgeni Malkin added his ninth of the playoffs (and NHL-leading 26th point) 15 seconds after that.
The goals did come off the rush as Laviolette noted, but some of the leaks come down to Rinne, who couldn't keep Guentzel's game-tying goal from finding a hole and then offered up a juicy rebound to Bryan Rust which spurred the go-ahead marker.
Laviolette defended Rinne's play throughout the playoffs, which included a three-goal first round against Chicago, but wouldn't go as far as to confirm him for Game 3 — the first Stanley Cup home game in Nashville's history and one P.K. Subban guaranteed his team would win.
"They are opportunistic," Laviolette said of the Pens.
Unlike Rinne, who also gave up four goals on 11 shots in a Game 1 dominated by the Preds, Murray gave his team a chance to rally in Game 2. Nashville again controlled play through two periods — even-strength shot attempts were 44-24 for the Preds — but the 23-year-old kept it close for the defending champs.
During one second period sequence, he stopped a James Neal backhand that caromed off a teammate's stick and then shut down Filip Forsberg rushing down the left side on an odd-man rush. Following that came a flashy glove stop on a Roman Josi point blast.
Scoring more goals and firing more shots than any team during the regular season, Pittsburgh is certainly capable offensively and especially opportunistic in the playoffs with goals on 11 per cent of their shots. But the difference in the series has been goaltending and Rinne, specifically, getting outplayed by Murray.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., native still qualifies as a rookie even as he chases a second Cup following a win last spring.
"He never gets rattled," Pens defenceman Ian Cole said. "A goal goes in and he can play the exact same way right after that, which is hard for any goalie to do, but especially one that's still really quite young."
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press