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Stanley Cup Final Buzz: Penguins in command with 2-0 series lead

Play of forward Jake Guentzel, goalie Matt Murray powering Pittsburgh; Predators need more going home for Game 3 on Saturday

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Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final is Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). NHL.com writers in Pittsburgh and Nashville will be checking in throughout the day. Here is the Stanley Cup Final news for Thursday:

 

5:40 p.m.
Subban confident Predators will win Game 3

Defenseman P.K. Subban is not backing down from his prediction that the Nashville Predators will defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

After initially saying the Predators would bounce back following their 4-1 loss in Game 2 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Subban sounded even more confident about it Thursday. Correspondent Robby Stanley has the story on what Subban had to say after the Predators returned to Nashville.

Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, the Predators are desperate for a victory, but are saying they have no doubt they can come back and dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions. Columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika tries to decipher how much of the Predators' belief is real and how much they are trying convince themselves they can beat the Penguins.

Almost overshadowed by Subban's prediction is the difficult decision coach Peter Laviolette has to make about his starting goaltender for Game 3. Laviolette declined to say Thursday whether he'll go back to Pekka Rinne after pulling him 3:28 into the third period of Game 2 or give 22-year-old rookie Juuse Saros his first Stanley Cup Playoff start. Stanley has more on the Predators' goaltending situation.

Center Ryan Johansen wishes he could get back on the ice and help the Predators, but is sidelined for the rest of the season after having surgery on his left thigh May 18 to treat an acute compartment syndrome. Stanley has Johansen's comments on his recovery and what it's been like watching the Predators play in the Stanley Cup Final without him.

 

3:15 p.m.
Sullivan has Penguins on track to repeat

Just about everything coach Mike Sullivan has touched since his arrival with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 12, 2015 has turned to gold.

The Penguins are two wins away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions. Sullivan is in complete control of his team. What is it about Sullivan that has made him perfect for this team at this time? Senior writer Dan Rosen talked to one of Sullivan's closest friends in the hockey business to get the scoop on the Penguins coach.

It was exactly one year ago Thursday when the Penguins won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks to take a 2-0 lead in that series. Sound familiar? Rosen writes about how the Penguins can use the experience gained last year, taking a 2-0 lead in the Cup Final on the road with them, in Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Is the leading scorer of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs flying under the radar? Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is pacing the League with 26 points in 21 games this postseason, and it seems like nobody is talking about him. Correspondent Wes Crosby writes about why that works for Malkin and the Penguins.

Malkin has the Penguins' lone power-play goal on 10 opportunities through two games against Nashville. They were 0-for-7 and had two shots on goal with the man-advantage in Game 2. But was the power play really as bad as those numbers suggest? Rosen takes a deeper look.

 

10 a.m

The Pittsburgh Penguins are two wins away from winning their second straight Stanley Cup following a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.

Penguins rookie forward Jake Guentzel scored two goals, his second breaking a tie 10 seconds into the third period to ignite a spurt of three goals in 3:18 to take command of the game. 

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was pulled after allowing the fourth goal, by Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin. Rinne has allowed nine goals through the first two games. 

Here is a look at what happened on Wednesday:

 

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Nashville Predators 1

Guentzel scored his 11th and 12th goals of the playoffs, setting the record for most goals scored in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a United States-born rookie.

Guentzel's second goal gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead and 3:18 later, it was a 4-1 game and Rinne was heading to the bench.

It was the second straight year Pittsburgh won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final at home, and the first time this postseason Nashville has lost two straight.

The numbers don't look good for the Predators.

Since the Final went to the best-of-7 format in 1939, teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead have gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 90.0 percent of the time (45 of 50 series), including each of the past three times (2012 and 2014 Los Angeles Kings, 2016 Penguins).

Still, the Predators are 7-1 at home this postseason and that's where they will be for Game 3 on Saturday. They are so confident going home that defenseman P.K. Subban all but guaranteed a win on Wednesday

Who will be in goal for Predators could be up in the air. Coach Peter Laviolette didn't exactly give Rinne a ringing endorsement after Game 2, but NHL.com Columnist Nick Cotsonika said he unquestionably should start on Saturday.

Whoever is in goal for Nashville will have to deal with a Pittsburgh offense that set the tone for the whole series in a 3:18 span in Game 2, writes NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen.

Of course, the Penguins have a stellar goaltender of their own in Matt Murray, who joined elite company on Wednesday. NHL.com Staff Writer Tim Campbell explains.

Video: Three-goal 3rd lifts Pens to 4-1 win in Game 2

 

Here is what we learned on Wednesday:

Goaltending battle tilted toward Penguins

The goaltending matchup was a tossup for many prior to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. It is decidedly one-sided after two games. Murray has been steady and very sharp for the Penguins, particularly in their 4-1 victory in Game 2. His save percentage through two games is .938. On the other side, Rinne, pulled by the Predators after allowing four goals on 25 shots, has a .777 save percentage in the Final. If that comparison doesn't tighten, it's going to be a short series.

Quality, not quantity, powering Pittsburgh

The Penguins were outshot 38-27 in Game 2, making it the 15th time in 21 games in these playoffs they have been outshot. With three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period in Game 2, it proved once again Pittsburgh's shot totals don't matter most of the time. It's how quickly and often the Penguins can strike, and how adept they are at turning an opponent's mistake into a great scoring chance.

Video: How the Penguins blew Game 2 open in the third period

Momentum not befriending Nashville

The Predators have stayed with the Penguins in terms of grit and speed through Games 1 and 2, but one area that is not going Nashville's way is what the chippy play is doing to the momentum of the games. In Game 2, for instance, there were 12 minor penalties (seven to the Predators). That march to the penalty box is disrupting Nashville's bread and butter - its relentless pressure. The Predators denied all seven Penguins power plays in Game 2, but the energy expended to do that cost Nashville dearly.

More needed from Neal

Nashville forward James Neal was cold to start the playoffs with no goals in the Western Conference First Round. He warmed up considerably to help the Predators through the second round and the Western Conference Final, with five goals. Neal has gone cold again, with no goals in the past six games. He had seven shots in Game 2 against the Penguins but the scoring drought needs to end soon to help jumpstart the Nashville offense.

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