The Pittsburgh Penguins are one win away from becoming the first team to defend as Stanley Cup champions since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings after a comprehensive 6-0 victory against the Nashville Predators on Thursday in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 and can claim the Stanley Cup with a win in Game 6 in Nashville on Sunday. Game 7, if necessary, would be here on Wednesday.
Six different Penguins scored and captain Sidney Crosby had three assists while Matt Murray stopped 24 shots for the shutout.
Justin Schultz scored 1:31 into the game, on the power play, to start the rout. Goals by Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin later in the first followed.
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was pulled after the first period, when he allowed three goals on nine shots. The Penguins then scored three goals on backup Juuse Saros.
Conor Sheary started that run with a goal at 1:19 of the second period. Phil Kessel and Ron Hainsey scored later in the period. A dozen Pittsburgh players had at least one point.
Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis was injured early in the second period and didn't return. His status for Game 6 is unknown.
Defenseman Ryan Ellis has not returned for the Predators. He missed the final 16 minutes of the second period with an apparent injury.
Obviously, Nashville's defense has struggled in Game 5. Matt Irwin, who has had to play more minutes in Ellis' absence is minus-3. Yannick Weber is minus-2 in 8:07 of action. Matthias Ekholm, a rock all postseason, is minus-3 and P.K. Subban, Public Enemy No. 1 here for his running feud with Sidney Crosby, is minus-2. Ellis was in the box when Pittsburgh scored a power-play goal to open the scoring.
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Nashville Predators in Game 5.
After two periods, they trail 6-0 despite allowing only 19 shots.
Defenseman Ron Hainsey, trailing the play, scored a tap-in goal on a beautiful pass from Evgeni Malkin at 16:40 of the second.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Hainsey finishes smooth passing play
Plus, defenseman Ryan Ellis has not returned since tripping over Patric Hornqvist during a goal-mouth scramble. He departed at 3:58 and has not returned. Ellis sat on the bench for a bit, in clear pain as he grabbed at his side or back.
Ellis has five goals and eight assists for 13 points in 21 games, but, more importantly, he has been vital to the four-man defensive rotation the Predators have used to limit the damage from Pittsburgh's top two lines in the first four games.
Pittsburgh's stars have broken out in Game 5.
Crosby has three assists and now has 20 points in Stanley Cup Final games, passing Mario Lemieux (19) for the Penguins record.
Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each have a goal. Malkin has an assist and Kessel has two in Game 5. Malkin has 28 points, one ahead of Crosby for the top spot in the postseason scoring race. Crosby has played one fewer game than Malkin, who has appeared in all 23 games for the Penguins this postseason.
The party is in full swing in Pittsburgh. Phil Kessel snapped a wrist shot through traffic, and a jumping teammate, to beat Juuse Saros and make it 5-0.
Fans immediately began chanting "We want the Cup" after the goal.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Kessel rips a laser from the slot
Kessel's goal, the second of the period for the Penguins, at 8:02, came on the seventh shot of the period. Kessel has eight goals and 21 points this postseason. Nashville had two shots in the period when Kessel scored.
Crosby earned the secondary assist on the goal and has three points in Game 5. He has 56 multi-point games in his 147 postseason games. He has eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points this postseason, tied with Malkin for the postseason scoring lead.
It doesn't matter who is net, though, as Pittsburgh continues to pour it on, leading 4-0 with a goal from Conor Sheary at 1:19 of the second period.
Sheary, moved onto the top line for the game, one-timed a beautiful pass from Sidney Crosby, past Juuse Saros on the first shot he faced in relief of Pekka Rinne.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Sheary buries Crosby's great dish
Jake Guentzel also got an assist on the goal and now has 21 points, tying the record for most points by a rookie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars and Ville Leino of the Philadelphia Flyers also have 21 points.
We have a change in goal to start the second period for Nashville.
The Predators have turned to backup Juuse Saros after Pekka Rinne allowed three goals on nine shots in the first period.
Saros played the final 10:04 of Game 2 and did not allow a goal on the two shots he faced in a 4-1 victory by the Penguins.
In seven periods in Pittsburgh in the Final, Rinne allowed 11 goals on 45 shots.
The Penguins scored twice in the first 6:43 of the game, on its first six shots, to take a 2-0 lead. Evgeni Malkin scored a 4-on-4 goal with 10.2 seconds remaining for a 3-0 lead. Malkin hammered a drop pass from Phil Kessel past Pekka Rinne.
Video: Cup Final, Gm5: Malkin buries Kessel's smooth dish
The teams were playing 4-on-4 because Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban received matching minors for a tussle behind the net.
Defenseman Justin Schultz lasered a point shot past traffic in front and through the five hole of Rinne to open the scoring at 1:31. Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis was in the penalty box for holding at the time.
Bryan Rust scored 5:12 later, taking a nifty pass from Chris Kunitz and banking a backhand off the post and into the net.
Rinne, brilliant in allowing one goal each in the two games in Nashville, has allowed 11 goals on 45 shots in seven periods at PPG Paints Arena.
The Predators had more of the play in the second half of the period, aided by a too many men penalty to Pittsburgh at 10:06 of the first period.
Shots on goal, at one point 6-1 in Pittsburgh's favor, finished 9-9.
Forward Bryan Rust, moved off the top line, scored a backhander at 6:43 to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
The goal, set up by a brilliant pass from Chris Kunitz, beat Rinne to his glove side and came on Pittsburgh's sixth shot of the game.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Rust shovels a backhander over Rinne
At the time of the goal, Nashville had one shot on net and had not been able to establish the zone-time advantage it enjoyed throughout the first four games of this series.
It didn't take long for Pittsburgh to take advantage of home cooking.
Defenseman Justin Schultz scored 1:31 into Game 5, on the power play, with a slapper from the point that went through Nashville forward Austin Watson and then through the 5-hole of goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Schultz hammers home early PPG
It was only Pittsburgh's second power-play goal of the series and the first since a 5-on-3 goal by Evgeni Malkin in the first period of Game 1.
It was another bad start for Rinne in Pittsburgh. He allowed four goals in Game 1 and another four in Game 2, when he was pulled in the third period.
Center Sidney Crosby, who recorded the assist on the Schultz goal, had hit the post on his first shift and Ryan Ellis took a holding penalty later in the sequence.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Crosby pings one off the goalpost
It's official, each team has added a Wilson to the lineup for Game 5.
Nashville, as expected, added Colin Wilson to the lineup. He is expected to join Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk on the fourth line. Wilson last played in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
The Penguins, meanwhile, reintroduced Scott Wilson to the lineup, replacing Josh Archibald, who had replaced Wilson in Game 4.
Also, the Penguins reconfigured their top line, moving Conor Sheary onto the wing of Sidney Crosby's line, joining Jake Guentzel.
Center Nick Bonino remains out of the lineup for Pittsburgh. He is missing his third game since blocking a P.K. Subban shot with his left foot/ankle.
It's a great day for hockey here in Pittsburgh and we have a doozy of a match here as Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators looms in about an hour at PPG Paints Arena.
The best-of-7 series is tied at two games each. The team that has won Game 5 after a split of the opening four games of the Final has won the Stanley Cup 17 of 24 times (70.8 percent) since best-of-7 format in 1939.
Recently, teams who have lost Game 5 have rebounded to win the series on a regular basis. The 2001 Colorado Avalanche, 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, 2009 Penguins and 2011 Boston Bruins have all won the final two games after falling behind 3-2.
Each team may have a different look for Game 5.
Colin Wilson, who has missed the first four games of the series, is expected to return. It is believed he will replace P. A. Parenteau on the fourth line. Wilson has two goals and two assists for four points in 12 playoff games. Last season, he led the Predators in playoff scoring with 13 points in 14 games.
For Pittsburgh, forward Scott Wilson should return to lineup, replacing Josh Archibald, who played in Game 4.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is sticking with goaltender Matt Murray, who has allowed eight goals in the past two games. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne allowed eight goals here in the first two games. He was pulled in Game 2.