The Pittsburgh Penguins made a statement Thursday, moving within one win of a second straight NHL Stanley Cup title with a 6-0 drubbing of the Nashville Predators.
Back home in Pittsburgh after two defeats in Nashville, the Penguins poured it on to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.
Six different players scored and superstar Sidney Crosby had three assists.
The Penguins will try to close it out in game six on Sunday in Nashville. The home team has won every game in the series so far.
Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Ron Hainsey scored for the Penguins.
Matt Murray made 24 saves while Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period.
Backup Juuse Saros wasn’t much of an improvement, giving up three goals in the second.
Crosby made his presence felt early, weaving down the slot on the game’s first shift, firing a shot off the left post and drawing a penalty on Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis.
On the ensuing power play Crosby set up Shultz for a slap shot for a 1-0 Penguins lead 1:31 into the first.
“You can see his drive and his appetite to win,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby. “He sets the tone right off the bat. We get a power play, we score on the power play. I think when you can start a game that way, it puts a team on their heels.
“So I think that’s an indication of his leadership and his will to win. I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has, and he’s not taking anything for granted,” added Sullivan, whose Penguins could become the first repeat Stanley Cup winners since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
“He sees the opportunity in front of us, and he’s doing everything within his power to try to help us be successful,” Sullivan said.
Pittsburgh kept up the pressure and Chris Kunitz set up Rust for a backhander that sailed past Rinne’s glove to make it 2-0 at 6:43.
Late in the first, Crosby and Nashville’s P.K. Subban tangled behind the Penguins’ net, with Crosby banging Subban’s helmeted head off the ice as Subban clutched Crosby’s leg.
Both received holding penalties.
“I’m not an official so I’m not going to judge what’s over the line and what’s not,” Subban said.
– ‘UFC move’ –
Crosby said he was trying to free himself from Subban.
“He lost his stick, and he was doing some UFC move on my foot,” Crosby said. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. I was trying to get out of there. He had lost his stick. He was trying to hold me down.”
Predators coach Peter Laviolette thought a stronger penalty should have been called on Crosby.
“I saw my guy get his head cross-checked in the ice 10 times,” Laviolette said. “I disagree with the call.”
On the ensuing four-on-four play, Malkin took a feed from Kessel and fired a shot past Rinne to make it 3-0 with 10.2 seconds left in the first.
“It wasn’t good,” Laviolette said of the Predators’ start. “It’s not the first period that we’re looking for, and it really didn’t get much better after that.”
Saros replaced Rinne to start the second and quickly surrendered a goal. Crosby set up Sheary in the low slot for a 4-0 Penguins lead at 1:19.
Kessel broke a six-game goal drought when he made it 5-0 and Hainsey made it 6-0 off a feed from Malkin at 16:40 of the second.
The Predators have two days to regroup and try to stop the Penguins claiming the club’s fifth Stanley Cup title in Nashville.
“I don’t know if anybody shakes off a game like that that quickly,” Laviolette said. “Nobody feels good leaving the building playing the way we did.”