The Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling. Sure, they won the first two games in the Stanley Cup Final series. But the Nashville Predators would not let them have a third victory. Or a fourth.
The pressure is on…
And it shows. For now, the team has been relying primarily on the young Jake Guentzel, who went from being a highlight in the playoffs to a phenom who’s shoulders became somewhat heavier with expectations from his teammates and fans to keep hitting that puck into the net.
Guentzel scored two goals in Game 2, pushing his playoff total to 12. The rookie winger leads the playoffs with five game-winning goals. He scored his 13th playoff goal in Game 3, but the Predators crushed the Penguins with a 5-1 victory. In Game 4, Nashville prevented Guentzel from scoring entirely, making the series even with a 4-1 win.
It’s all about Guentzel…
Pittsburgh has come to rely on Guentzel to be a top producer during the regular season and playoffs. So significant is he that ESPN’s Matthew Coller believes the “offensive dynamo” is the only way the Penguins will beat the “possession-dominating” Predators.
Until Game 3, Cup discussions (other than Guentzel) were centered on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin winning their second straight Cup, the third of their careers. However the tone has changed and Pens’ fans are just hoping that the team lives up to their reputation for rallying and getting favorable results in dire situations. Game 7 in any series is a second home for Pittsburgh, so let’s not be surprised if it leads to that again.
Help Crosby out…
Crosby has been playing his heart out, but as the National Post’s Steve Simmons says, his one flaw has been uncovered – he can’t play defense. Crosby had a “signature game” Monday night, scoring a terrific breakaway goal and setting up his linemates for another possible two goals. But it wasn’t enough.
He probably found himself struggling to be positive and encouraging his team after two consecutive losses. Especially when the team and Crosby seemed “separate” during Game 4, as opposed to Games 1 and 2. Crosby played with the gusto he always plays with. Phil Kessel helped to some extent, Malkin too. The rest of the team haven’t impacted much this series.
Coach Mike Sullivan has the utmost confidence in his men and their competitive spirit, but he knows his defense needs to step up without the very capable Kris Letang. “Our blueline are a simple bunch”, he said after Game 4. They haven’t been rushing the puck and involving themselves much in the offense.
Pittsburgh Penguins have beaten the odds before…
However, the Penguins have proved the doubters wrong so many time before. Against the Washington Capitals in the second round of the playoffs, and the Ottawa Senators in the third round, they appeared to be finished. Against the Predators, tied 2-2, they look like they could be kissing the Stanley Cup goodbye.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame the odds on the road to their Cup victory last year, and in their defeating of Washington and Ottawa this year. Who says they can’t defeat Nashville too?
by Yvonne Hew – contributor