PITTSBURGH — Midway through the first period of Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final, Nick Bonino of the Pittsburgh Penguins lay in agony on the ice. He tried to hobble to the bench. He couldn’t make it. Finally, after a minute or two, he was helped off the playing surface, unable to do anything more than glide off the ice, his legs stiff and straight. Bonino was hit by a blistering slap shot by Nashville Predators defenseman PK Subban, with the puck traveling nearly 100 miles per hour. For any normal human, they would be off work for days or even weeks after an injury like that. But Bonino missed less than 10 minutes of playing time. That, in one paragraph, is what the Final is all about, but it’s just one example.
Game One of the Stanley Cup Final was, despite eight goals scored, a fairly boring affair. Game Two was not. It was pure insanity. In just over three minutes in the third period, the Penguins turned a 1-1 game into a blowout.
First it was Jake Gentzel with his second goal of the game off a terrible rebound allowed by Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. Then it was Scott Wilson with a tally defected off Preds forward Vernon Fiddler. Fifteen seconds later, Evgeni Malkin unleashed a rocket into the back of net. With barely any time to even contemplate what happened, Rinne’s night was done. So was the Predators’, with Nashville staring at a 2-0 hole in the series.
At first, the night looked good for Nashville, which lost Game One despite outplaying the Penguins. But the Pens don’t need shots. They make their money off little mistakes by their opponent, using their speed to get into the other team’s zone in a blink of an eye. The Penguins have superb record in the playoffs when getting outshot by double digits.
The Predators got on the board first as Pontus Aberg, 23, made a marvelous individual play, taking the puck into the corner and flipping it past the Penguins defense, mocking them with his skill. He finished the play by skating past the net front and fooling Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray. All this was done by a guy who scored one goal in 15 games in the regular season. Aberg is now on the Preds first line. This is why.
Despite the beauty and magic of some of the plays in the first, the period got nasty when Chris Kunitz, a player with a checkered past, cross-checked Subban in the head and neck. It was a brutal, malicious play worthy of a game misconduct and possibly a suspension. Kunitz, however, was given a mere two minutes of punishment.
That was far from the only transgression by the referees, though they negatively affected both teams. The game was a nasty affair with even superstar players, Subban and Malkin, dropping the gloves out of hate. At the end of the game, there were 14 penalties on the scoresheet.
“It’s gonna be physical, it’s gonna be intense,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after the game. “With two teams remaining, I think that’s to be expected.”
Malkin’s parents, who were in attendance, high fived Pens fans after their son held his own.
i believe this is Malkin’s parents high fiving people after the fight pic.twitter.com/xrl6MDx7YY
— steph (@myregularface) June 1, 2017
Less than four minutes after Aberg’s goal, Penguins tied it in what looked like a nothing play. That was until Guentzel whacked a puck through a small gap Rinne left between his glove and his body.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy, but he’s got that feistiness,” Crosby said of Guentzel, a 22-year-old from Nebraska. “He’s got great skills. His skillset combined with the way he works allows him to get the chances he does.”
The Pens young forward has 19 points in the playoffs, the most all-time by an American rookie. The goal was his 12th of the playoffs.
“It’s crazy,” Guentzel said of the records he has set this postseason. “You can’t even put into words how it feels.”
The Pens’ luck in these playoffs, it seems, will never end. But in many ways, they make their own luck. They are fast and skilled enough to punch you in the face for a simple turnover or errant pass. Now they are up 2-0, on their way to their second straight Cup. It would be their third in nine seasons.
The post-lockout Penguins are turning into a dynasty.
Headline photo: Bruce Bennett
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