Sidney Crosby set an energetic and determined tone from the outset on Thursday and set up three goals as the Penguins routed the Nashville Predators, 6-0, at PPG Paints Arena to put themselves in position to claim the Cup on Sunday. The Predators, whose unlikely journey from No. 8 seed in the West to Stanley Cup finalist has captivated the city of Nashville and made them a sentimental favorite — except in Pittsburgh — now must rely on their home-ice success to prolong the series. The Predators are 9-1 at Bridgestone Arena, where Penguins goalie Matt Murray gave up eight goals on 58 shots in losing to Nashville in Games 3-4.
The last NHL team to repeat as champion was the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
The Penguins’ stunning first-period performance led Predators coach Peter Laviolette to remove goaltender Pekka Rinne and replace him with backup Juuse Saros. Rinne gave up three goals on nine shots and in 2 1/3 games at Pittsburgh was torched for 11 goals on 45 shots. Playing at home in Games 3 and 4 he stopped 50 of 52 shots, and he must regain that form in order for the Predators to force a seventh game next Wednesday at Pittsburgh.
Crosby had a busy night beyond his three assists. He was involved in a tussle with Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban late in the first period and appeared to repeatedly push Subban’s head onto the ice as they locked limbs, a strange action by someone who has suffered from several concussions. Also, Crosby appeared to throw a water bottle onto the ice from the bench during the second period when the officials didn’t call a penalty on the Predators for a hit on teammate Chris Kunitz, but he wasn’t caught or penalized for that.
Penguins winger Jake Guentzel tied the NHL record for most points by a rookie in one postseason when he earned his 21st point, an assist on the goal by Conor Sheary that put Pittsburgh ahead 4-0. Guentzel has 13 goals and eight assists. The record for points by a rookie in one playoff season was set in 1981 by Minnesota’s Dino Ciccarelli, who had 14 goals and seven assists. Philadelphia’s Ville Leino matched that in 2010 with seven goals and 14 assists.
According to the NHL, the team that has won Game 5 after splitting the first four games of the Final has won the Cup 17 of 24 times (70.8%) since the Final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. However, the club that has lost Game 5 has rebounded to win the series in four of the past eight such occasions: the 2001 Colorado Avalanche, 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2011 Boston Bruins.
Shortly after Crosby hit the left post and drew a penalty on Ryan Ellis, the Penguins scored their first power-play goal since Game 1 and first five-on-four goal (they had scored during a five-on-three advantage in the opener). Schultz, standing near the Stanley Cup Final logo painted onto the ice, let loose a long shot that went between Rinne’s pads at 1:31.
Penguins forward Bryan Rust padded that to 2-0 at 6:43 when he took a fine pass from Kunitz and lifted a slick backhander into the upper-right corner of the net. That grew into a 3-0 lead while the teams were skating four on four, the result of the bizarre tussle between Crosby and Subban in which both got holding penalties.
Evgeni Malkin, who had been criticized for not shooting enough, took a pass from the also-vilified Phil Kessel and scored from the left circle at 19:49 to send the fans into a frenzy. The Penguins piled it on by scoring on their first shot against Saros, a stick-side shot by Conor Sheary at 1:19 of the second period, and they struck again at 8:02 when Kessel broke a six-game goal drought by scoring on an ice-skimming shot from the high slot.
Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis took several hard hits and didn’t return to the ice after taking a shift early in the second period.