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Guentzel continues historic run

by Bryanna McDermott @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel has had quite the rookie season - in fact, it's been historic.

In his NHL debut, on Nov. 21, 2016, Guentzel scored two goals against the New York Rangers, including a goal on his first shot/shift, and he matched that performance on Wednesday night as the Pens took down the Nashville Predators, 4-1, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 2-0 series lead.

Guentzel tallied two goals in the Game, bringing his postseason leading total to 12 - the 2nd-most ever by a rookie in NHL history behind only Dino Ciccareilli's 14. His 19 postseason points is an NHL record for most playoff points by an American-born rookie, passing former Pens' Hall of Famer Joe Mullen.

The 22-year-old opened the scoring for the Pens 16:36 into the first period. Chris Kunitz sent the puck down the right boards to Conor Sheary in the corner, who threw it toward the net. Guentzel managed to backhand the puck between the post and left pad of Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne to tie the game at 1-1.

"'Conor made a good play in front of the net," Guentzel said. "And just throw it at the net and see what happens, and somehow it squeaked through."

Guentzel then broke that 1-1 tie just 10 seconds into the third period, the fastest goal in Pens' playoff history to start a period. The play began with an opening-faceoff win by Sidney Crosby, which Ron Hainsey collected at the boards and passed to Bryan Rust, racing into the offensive zone. Rust's pass bounced off Rinne's pad and right to Guentzel, who buried a wrist shot to make it 2-1 Pens.

"We've been talking about just throwing pucks at the pads and seeing what happens," Guentzel said. "Great pass off the pads by him."

The goal would stand as the game-winner, Guentzel's fifth of the postseason which establishes an NHL rookie record in a single playoff year. Guentzel is also just the fifth rookie in NHL history to reach double digits in goals in a single postseason. He is now just two points shy of tying the NHL record for a rookie in a single playoff year.

Prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Guentzel went eight games without a goal - now he has three in two games. But, Guentzel never let the scoring slump bring him down.

"He's a good kid off the ice, so he's fun to be around," Scott Wilson said. "That never changed when he wasn't getting the bounces. Obviously, he's got some super skill, and it's nice to see those ones go in for him."

Guentzel's scoring outburst has continued to garner the attention of his veteran teammates.

"He's really smart," Crosby said of Guentzel. "He's got really good hockey sense. He's able to read the play, and he's in and around the net all the time. He knows when to kind of get out of there and find a soft area and open up for a pass. But I think his hockey sense kind of allows for all of those skills to really be shown. You can tell he sees the ice really well."

While Guentzel is known to be pretty quiet in the locker room, his presence speaks volumes on the ice.

"When somebody comes up and scores two goals their first game and looks like they have a chance almost every shift, I think it brings a confidence to himself, but also the team," Kunitz said. "When a guy does that, it's almost contagious down the lineup that we have players that are willing to go to those areas and score those big goals."

After nearly seven months in-and-out of the Pens' lineup, Guentzel seems to have found a home in Pittsburgh and even a second family.

"I kind of see him as a little brother to me," Wilson said. "So I like to pick on him and give him a hard time. He's awesome, and all the guys like him. He might be quiet with some people, but once you get him out of his shell, he's a great kid."

As for all the extra attention Guentzel is receiving after an amazing rookie season, he's more focused on the big picture - winning the Stanley Cup.

"It's crazy," Guentzel said. "I can't even put into words how I feel, but the ultimate goal is two more wins, and it's going to be tough to get."

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