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Pens' offense breaking the Predators

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The 2017 Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and Nashville was billed as the unstoppable force against the immovable object. 

That being the Pens' No. 1-ranked offense (the unstoppable force) against the Preds' No. 1-ranked defense (the immovable object).

Through two games there is no argument as to which element has dominated.

The unstoppable force obliterated the immovable object in Game 2 as Pittsburgh exploded for three goals in 3:18 minutes to open the third period en route to a 4-1 victory to take a 2-0 series lead.

"This team has an inner belief that we can score goals, and they've provided plenty of evidence for themselves to suggest that," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Our guys believe in their ability to finish."

More surprising, the Pens have solved the Predators' biggest strength.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne entered the Final matchup leading all NHL netminders in wins (12), goals-against average (1.70) and save percentage (.941). The 6-foot-5 Fin is no doubt the biggest reason for Nashville's defensive success and the reason the Predators are playing in their first-ever Cup Final.

But the Pens have welcomed Nashville and Rinne to NHL's biggest stage with a rude awakening.

Pittsburgh has scored nine goals in the opening two games of this series. The Pens scored five goals on just 12 shots in Game 1 as Rinne surrendered four goals on 11 shots. He didn't fair much better in Game 2, allowed four goals - again - though this time on 25 shots.

For some perspective, Rinne had allowed four goals in this year's playoffs just one single time in 16 games prior to the Final. The Pens have posted four goals in each of the first two games of the series and Rinne watched the final 16:32 minutes of Game 2 from the Predators' bench.

Rinne's Cup Final numbers are 0-2 with a 4.69 GAA and .778 save percentage.

Now this isn't a knock on Rinne. Three of the Pens' four goals in Game 2 were the result of odd-man rushes and poor coverage by the Predators. Even head coach Peter Laviolette had his goaltender's back.

"Pekka has been terrific through this entire playoffs," he said. "All three goals in the second period, we could have done better."

But rather this phenomenon is indication of just how dominant this Pens offense is.

The Pens have scored 67 goals in 21 playoff games this year, a ridiculous 3.19 goals per game. You typically don't see numbers like that in the playoffs when games become tighter and goals are harder to come by.

The Pens' explosive offense has been on display in these past two games. They scored three goals in a 4:11-minute span at the end of the first period of Game 1. They followed that with the aforementioned three goals in 3:18-minute sequence to open the third period of Game 3.

It took rookie Jake Guentzel all of 10 seconds after the puck dropped in the third period to break a 1-1 tie as he buried a rebound for his second goal of the game and his NHL-leading 12th of the playoffs, to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

Guentzel's marker set a franchise record for fastest goal to start a playoff period, besting Petr Nedved by a single second (April 17, 1996 vs. Washington). It was also Guentzel's fifth game-winner of the postseason - a new NHL rookie record.

And keeping with the quick-strike theme, the Pens scored their third and fourth goals of the game a mere 15 ticks apart from Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin to completely blow open the game.

The final frame began tied at 1-1. By the 3:18 mark of the third period it was a 4-1 lead for Pittsburgh (only an offside call on a coach's challenge prevented the Pens from scoring a fifth goal in the game).

And most impressive of all, the Pens offense scored four goals, while their power play went 0-for-7 in the contest. Eight of Pittsburgh's nine goals in the Final have been scored at even strength.

"If we score one, we won't stop. We want to score more," Malkin said. "It's our game. Never stop."

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