If the Stanley Cup Final were played exclusively in Pittsburgh, it may have been one of the most lopsided series of all time. The Penguins have outscored the Nashville Predators 15-4 in the three games at PPG Paints Arena, and a 6-0 pasting on Thursday night has them on the verge of claiming their second straight Stanley Cup.
Returning to Pittsburgh for Game 5, the series suddenly felt exactly the same as the first two games. The Penguins were dominated in Games 3 and 4, but came out and took back momentum immediately on their return home. Under two minutes into the game, Justin Schultz became the first Pittsburgh blueliner to score in the Final when he beat Pekka Rinne on the power play.
The Pens didn’t look back from there and ended up scoring two more goals in the first period, which chased Rinne from the net after the first period for the second time in the series. In the second period it was more of the same with Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Ron Hainsey (!) scoring to extend the lead to six.
The game was pretty wild throughout the end of the first and into the second. Sidney Crosby appeared to push P.K. Subban’s head into the ice multiple times, but coincidental minors were whistled. Into the second period, the refs didn’t call a slashing penalty and Crosby responded by throwing a water bottle onto the ice in the middle of play which wasn’t called.
Not to get too sidetracked, but with all of the talk of concussion and player safety, the NHL has sent a terrible message during these playoffs. So far what we have learned is that boards can’t cause concussion spotters to pull a player off the ice. A major is only called when Crosby is hit (see Caps series), and Subban is apparently immune to concussions. In Game 1 he was crosschecked directly to the head against the boards behind the play, and last night his head was slammed into the ice, but both were only called minors - and last night’s play didn’t even result in a Nashville power play.
Last night’s incident was praised by NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who said Subban “had it coming.” It’s just infuriating to see the NHL have such blatant disregard for player health when it comes to the on-ice game. With so much talk and research on the effects of head injuries, it would be nice to see these hits get treated the way they do in the regular season.
Meanwhile, back to the game.
The Penguins defense looked much more comfortable in Game 5, which prevented the Predators from being able to reclaim any momentum in the first period. With the defense playing more confident they were able to jump into rushes and provide offense. The goal by Hainsey in the second came off of an odd man rush that he created. These types of plays took the Pens to the next level in game 5.
There were a few notable plays in Game 5, which was probably the most exciting part of a game that over a minute into the second period. With an assist on Sheary’s goal, Jake Guentzel tied the rookie playoff points record with 21 points. Not to be outdone, Crosby had three assists which moves him to second all-time in Penguins points during the finals with 19. Only Mario Lemieux has more with 20.
The Pens had six different goal scorers in Game 5. Pittsburgh has been dangerous like this all season, with multiple lines that are capable of scoring goals, but we haven’t seen production like this out of them during playoffs, and the reunion of Crosby with Sheary and Guentzel paid immediate dividends. If they continue on this path in Game 6, Gary Bettman will be presenting the Cup in Nashville this weekend.
The final score wasn’t the only problem for the Predators who saw Ryan Ellis leave the ice early in the second period and did not return. This could have mainly been for precautionary issues, but he looked to be in pain on the bench after falling awkwardly to the ice around the Preds’ net. Ellis missed significant time this season with a knee injury, so the injury could be more than missing two periods.
So far, the home team has won each game in the series. Should the Penguins buck that trend in Game 6, they’ll be awarded the Stanley Cup on Sunday night in Nashville, with the game starting at 8:00 p.m.