The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators meet in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET). Here are five keys to this huge game, with the Penguins up 1-0 in the series after their 5-3 win on Monday.
Game 2 Trends
There are a few difference forces at work in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Will these trends continue?
– The Penguins are 3-0 in Game 2s this postseason, while the Predators are 1-2, their lone win coming in their sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1.
– Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final has required overtime in five of the past six seasons, including last year’s Game 2 that saw the Penguins win in overtime on a Conor Sheary goal.
– The team winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final also has won Game 2 in nine of the past 11 years.
The Pekka “Correction”
There’s been this bizarre evaluation of Pekka Rinne’s Game 1 performance, as if a large swath of hockey pundits decided to judge it via the box score (four goals on 11 shots) rather than the game itself (one questionable goal on a 5-on-3, one goal off a perfect pass, one goal off a Predators defender and one perfect shot after 37 minutes of standing around waiting for one).
But if you’re looking for a bounce-back performance, Rinne’s save percentage in four playoff games following a loss this postseason is .960.
“If you have a game, whether it’s good or bad, don’t get too high and don’t get too low. If you lose, you stay grounded. If you win, you forget about it the next day,” said Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. “He’s one of those guys that always has his mind right.”
The Other Pekka Correction
One of the things Rinne does better than most goalies is play the puck.
“I can’t stress it enough,” said Ekholm. “He’s like an extra defenseman back there. If they try and rim it off the glass, he’s jumping back there, he’s knocking them down. Otherwise, we’re going back to get the puck, and we’re getting hit.”
Some of the Penguins were saying that the Predators’ strong play in the attacking and neutral zones forced them to dump the puck and hope for the best in the Nashville zone – where Rinne was waiting, ready to hand his team possession.
Of course, you don’t have to worry about dump-ins if you breakout of your own zone effectively, which leads us to …
The Penguins Need To Break Out Of Their Own Zone Better
This was a major point stressed by the Penguins in their video work after Game 1: The Nashville forecheck.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen it before. It’s not like it’s something out of the world that someone has never seen,” said defenseman Trevor Daley. “I think these guys are a little more like Columbus. They come at you pretty hard.”
That they do, and they were effective, too:
They got away with it last night but what the Predators forecheck predictably did to the Penguins breakouts is something to watch for. pic.twitter.com/bcriCYM0jT
— Filipovic Forsberg (@DimFilipovic) May 30, 2017
So the Penguins need to improve here.
“Our ability to get out of our end zone as efficiently and effectively as we can is critically important. Ideally we’d like to get out clean with the puck, but that’s not always going to be the case because other teams have good forechecks, they’re defending hard. Sometimes we’re going to have to put pucks to areas and get in foot races. But the important takeaway is we’re trying to get out of the our end zone as efficiently and as quickly as we can,” said coach Mike Sullivan.
Finally, And Obviously, The Start
The Predators dominated Game 1, limiting the Penguins to zero shots over a 37-minute span and scoring three goals … but that was after a disastrous first period that saw them get down 3-0 after a P.K. Subban goal was wiped away on a coach’s challenge.
The Penguins are 12-2 when scoring first and 1-5 when they don’t. The Predators now have some proof of concept that they can shut down the Penguins when they’re on their game. The key in Game 2: Be on it from the start. No dumb penalties. No hole to dig out from. Come out hard, and get a goal on the board (and hopefully one that two linesman with an iPad can’t take away).
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