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Mike Harrington: No answers for Murray and Guentzel as Penguins are halfway to a repeat

PITTSBURGH -- There isn't a lot of deep analysis needed right now in the Stanley Cup final.

Matt Murray is schooling Pekka Rinne in the nets and rookie Jake Guentzel has scored the key goals in both games. Those are the main reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins have a 2-0 lead in the series for the second straight year after Wednesday's 4-1 win over Nashville in a raucous PPG Paints Arena.

A crowd that nervously shuffled to its seats expecting a taut third period when it started in a 1-1 tie went berserk as the Penguins sent Rinne to the bench with three goals in the opening 3:28 of the frame. That ensured the upstart Preds of going home with nothing to show for their trip here.

Pucks are leaking through Rinne at the most inopportune times. And he gave out the juiciest rebound you'll ever see for Guentzel to bang home the game-winner 10 seconds into the third period.

Bryan Rust used Rinne for a boomerang, pounding a perfect "shot-pass" into the goalie's pad. Rinne was helpless with the move and Guentzel was alert to bang home the rebound.

"We practice it all season. It's a smart play," said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. "Sometimes players are shooting to score, sometimes they're shooting to create the next play."

The next big play after the goal came at 3:13 when Scott Wilson tipped a puck off Vernon Fiddler through Rinne's legs. Fifteen seconds later, Rinne was gone after Evgeni Malkin went bar down with a laser on a 2-on-1 break.

"You have to put it behind you," Rinne said. "For me, I treat this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve played a long time, and the first time having a chance to play for the Cup, so I just think you have to bury these two games and move ahead, and just find a way to find some success."

"I don't think we expected to get one that quickly in the third," said Pittsburgh winger Conor Sheary. "But we used it as momentum and kept pressing and got those two other goals. We thrived off that first one though and played a solid third period."

Guentzel, remember, came into this series in a brutal slump. He hadn't scored a goal for eight games, starting with Game Seven of the second round against Washington and stretching through all seven games of the East final against Ottawa.

He scored the winning goal with 3:17 left in the third period Monday -- burning Rinne up high on the Penguins' first shot in 37 minutes. He dribbled a puck through Rinne for Pittsburgh's first goal in Game Two and then made no mistake with Bryan Rust's rebound to net the winner here.

That makes an NHL-high 12 goals in the postseason for Guentzel, who is suddenly in the lead for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who spent the first half of the season in the AHL.

"It's crazy. You can't even put into words what it feels like," he said. "But we know the ultimate goal is two more wins and they'll be tough to get."

"He seems pretty calm and cool on the outside," said Sidney Crosby, whose locker is next to Guentzel's. "Sitting next to him, he seems like he's really excited to be in the NHL. He's willing to do anything. He's obviously contributing with goals but he really cares about doing well out there."

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Guentzel, 22, is the kid who nearly got split in half by Rasmus Ristolainen in March, drawing an overly harsh three-game suspension for the Sabres defenseman. Guentzel has five game-winners, the most in history by a first-year player. The only rookie ever to score more goals is Minnesota's Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 14 in a losing effort in 1981.

There's more. Guentzel has 19 points, the most ever for an American rookie and two shy of the all-time rookie mark of 21 by Cicarelli and equaled by Philadelphia's Ville Leino in 2010, back when he could actually play the game and not just live on Terry Pegula's millions.

Now, before you get all lathered up thinking a Penguins sweep is inevitable, you should study recent history. Pittsburgh had the same lead last year against San Jose and needed six games to win its fourth Cup.

The final has opened 2-0 in nine of the past 11 seasons, foreshadowing a rout. But it usually doesn't happen. Eight of the last nine have gone six or seven games. There hasn't been a single sweep since 1998, when Detroit wrapped up the league's last back-to-back titles by blanking Washington.

So it's far from over, especially with Bridgestone Arena likely to be a hornet's nest Saturday night for the first Cup final game in its history. That said, the 2-0 lead may not foreshadow a short series but it tends to produce a winner. Teams that open 2-0 are 34-3.

"Right away the focus shifts to we don't lose in our building, " said Nashville's P.K. Subban. "So we're going back home. We're going to win the next game and then we'll see what happens from there."

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The Preds are probably shell-shocked by what happened at the start of the third period but they have to be completely mystified about Rinne, who has given a Swiss cheese performance. As in full of holes. For as much as Rinne was a superstar to get them to this point, he's been AHL-level under the bright lights of this series.

Rinne entered the game leading the playoffs in wins (12) and goals-against average (1.83) while posting a .934 save percentage. Where has that guy gone? He gave up four goals on 11 shots in Game One and it was four on 25 shots in Game Two. That's eight goals on 36, or a .778 save percentage.

Murray, meanwhile, made 37 saves Wednesday and has stopped 60 of 64 in the series. No advanced math degree needed to compare .938 to .778.

No advanced math needed to figure out 2-0 either.

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