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Rookie Jake Guentzel of Penguins scoring at historic rate

Pittsburgh forward has seven goals in first seven Stanley Cup Playoff games entering Game 3 vs. Capitals

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Maurice Richard. Dino Ciccarelli. Jake Guentzel.

That's it. That's the list. That's all the players in the past 73 years who have scored seven goals in their first seven games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Richard scored 10 goals in his first seven playoff games for the Montreal Canadiens in 1944. He finished his career with 544 regular-season goals, holding the NHL record until Gordie Howe broke it in 1963. He is the namesake of the annual trophy honoring the League's goal-scoring champion.

Ciccarelli scored seven goals in his first seven playoff games for the Minnesota North Stars in 1981. He finished with 608 regular-season goals and ranks 18th all time. Like Richard, he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Decent company for Guentzel, a 22-year-old rookie forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has seven goals in his first seven playoff games and leads the League entering Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-0.

"I've watched a little bit," Ciccarelli said. "Obviously he's got a knack for the net. Probably the same as me. He's getting put in good positions."

Ciccarelli, listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, split the 1980-81 season between Oklahoma City of the Central Hockey League and Minnesota. North Stars coach Glen Sonmor put Ciccarelli at right wing with center Bobby Smith, who led the North Stars with 93 points during the regular season, 27 more than anyone else.

"Obviously it was a good situation for me and then I just made the best of it," Ciccarelli said.

Guentzel (5-11, 180) split this season between Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the American Hockey League and Pittsburgh. Coach Mike Sullivan put Guentzel at left wing with captain Sidney Crosby, who has won … well, you know. Just about everything.

Obviously it's a good situation for Guentzel, and he's making the best of it.

"Playing with great players and just trying to be around the net," he said.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Guentzel completes hatty for OT win

Sullivan put Guentzel with Crosby because of his hockey sense and competitiveness. The son of a coach, the younger brother of two hockey players, Guentzel grew up learning the game and battling with bigger players. He can think the game at a high level and isn't afraid to go to the hard areas.

"He makes plays, he has poise with the puck, he doesn't throw the puck away and he wants to play with the puck, and I think that's complementary to Sid because Sid's the same way," Sullivan said. "He plays that give-and-go game down low and he sees the ice very well. He can make plays off the rush. So there's lots of aspects of Jake's game that we really like that led us to trying that combination with Sid, and it's worked pretty well for us."

Guentzel has scored in a variety of ways, including on the power play, on the rush and into an empty net. But perhaps the best example came in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In overtime, Crosby was buzzing below the goal line, his signature. Guentzel slipped into an opening in front of the net and lifted the stick of Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson so his stick would be free. When Crosby backhanded a pass in front, Guentzel was in position to score. He completed a hat trick and gave the Penguins a 5-4 victory.

"Obviously Crosby's a superstar," Ciccarelli said. "My mindset would be, and I'm sure it is for this young kid [Guentzel] who's doing a great job, 'Listen, you're playing with one of the top players in the world. Management's giving you that opportunity.'

"I'm sure he's preparing himself, and on the ice, if it was me, I'm sure he's thinking the same thing. You're going to get chances playing with Crosby, playing on that line. Just find the holes. Get to the open spots by the net and you're going to be rewarded. Crosby's attracting a lot of attention, which means there's going to be space open. Find the holes."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Guentzel strikes on odd-man rush

Ciccarelli recalled playing with center Sergei Fedorov with the Detroit Red Wings.

"All I wanted to do was give him the puck and then find the hole," Ciccarelli said. "He had that ability, superstar like he was, to find the open players. It was my job to find the hole by the net. A lot of tap-in goals. A lot of rebounds. Obviously that came from him. In his case, Crosby is going to create opportunities every game, every night.

"You need some good luck. You need good luck to win a Cup. You need good luck to have success in the playoffs, especially the way these playoffs are. It's crazy. It's fun watching. You just don't know who's going to win on any given night. Teams are winning games on the road. But yeah, the kid's doing a great job."

History bodes well for Guentzel. Richard finished the 1944 playoffs with 12 goals in nine games and the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Ciccarelli finished the 1981 playoffs with 14 goals in 19 games and the North Stars made the Final.

"I'm sure he's pretty excited," Ciccarelli said. "Inside he's probably like I was back then. 'Geez, I'm playing in the NHL and I'm playing with one of the top players in the world.' He's going to get some attention. But that's still good, because that's going to free up Crosby and make the whole line dangerous even more. It's good to see. I hope he keeps it going."

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