Guentzel sparks huge third period as Pens whip Preds in Game 2

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PITTSBURGH — Things were going pretty well for Nashville through 40 minutes on Wednesday night.

Then, the final 20 happened.

In a stunning surge — or collapse, depending where your allegiances lie — the Pittsburgh Penguins exploded for three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period to beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Jake Guentzel played the hero, scoring Pittsburgh’s opening goal before adding the eventual game-winner 10 seconds into the final frame. The GWG was also was the fastest goal to start a period in Penguins playoff history.

Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin also found the back of the net, the latter chasing beleaguered Preds netminder Pekka Rinne from the game. Rinne has now surrendered eight goals on 36 shots in the Cup Final, giving him a ghastly .777 save percentage — and giving the Predators some major questions in net as the series shifts back to Nashville.

One of the guys primarily responsible for Rinne’s struggles?

Guentzel.

The 22-year-old rookie has three of those aforementioned eight goals, and continues to etch his name into the history books. With 12 goals this postseason, he now ranks second all-time in goals by a rookie in a single playoff, two back of Dino Ciccarelli’s 14 in 1981. He also set an American-born rookie record for goals and points (19), surpassing the mark Joe Mullen hit 35 years ago.

What’s crazy about Guentzel is that he’s scored those three goals on just four shots. It’s very emblematic of Pittsburgh’s offensive output thus far.

The Penguins have been extremely opportunistic this series, a trend that’s been on display all postseason long. Tonight marked the 15th time in 21 games they’ve been outshot, but it’s hardly been an issue, something head coach Mike Sullivan alluded to after a Game 1 victory in which they scored five times on just 12 shots.

“I think our team has an ability to win games different ways,” said Sullivan. “I think one of the strengths of this team is the quick strike-ability. We can be opportunistic. When we get high-quality chances, we have some people that can finish.”

In many ways, Game 2 was like Game 1. The Preds out-shot the Pens and, for long stretches, out-possessed them. There was a disallowed goal due to a successful offside challenge — though it was Pittsburgh that had a tally wiped out this time, with Nashville doing the wiping — and there was another short, furious burst of scoring.

In the series opener, the Pens scored three times in 4:11 in the opening period. They did it even faster tonight.

The Preds are hoping most, if not all, of these trends will cease to continue on Saturday, when the series shifts to Bridgestone. They can take confidence from their great home record these playoffs — 7-1 in Nashville, with no regulation losses — and the old adage that no series truly begins until a home team loses.

That said, home ice won’t mean a thing if the Penguins continue to be as opportunistic as they’ve been.

Or if Rinne continues to struggle like he has.

Notes…

Matt Murray had a terrific night in goal, stopping 33 of 34 shots… P.K. Subban and Evgeni Malkin engaged in a rare fight late in the third period, as frustrations boiled over… Pontus Aberg provided one of the few Nashville highlights on the night, with his terrific solo goal in the first period…Teams winning Game 2 have gone on to hoist the Stanley Cup 74 percent of the time since the final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939 (57-of-77 series), but only at a 50 pecent clip over the past eight years (4-4).

Blockbuster: Rangers send Stepan, Raanta to Coyotes for No. 7 pick, DeAngelo

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Just when you thought Stan Bowman was the busiest man at draft weekend, John Chayka upped the ante.

Just minutes after acquiring Niklas Hjalmarsson from the ‘Hawks, Chayka went out and acquired veteran Rangers center Derek Stepan — along with netminder Antti Raanta — in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick at tonight’s draft, and young d-man Anthony DeAngelo.

The trade was first broken by TSN’s Darren Dreger, later confirmed by fellow TSNer Bob McKenzie.

Phew.

In Stepan the Coyotes get a massive upgrade at the center position, which was bereft of talent for all of last season. It’s why Arizona had been tied to Stepan for most of this week. The 27-year-old has consistently been able to go beyond the 50-point plateau, with 17 goals and 55 points last season, and will certainly be a boost to Arizona’s crop of talented young forwards.

Stepan’s entering the third year of a six-year, $39 million contract that comes with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million. And, importantly, the Rangers moved him prior to his no-trade clause kicking in next season. The money freed up by trading Stepan could be used in free agency to land, say, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

As for the other part of this deal, the Coyotes could also have their starting netminder of the future in Raanta, now that Mike Smith has been shipped off to Calgary. Raanta has been one of the league’s best backups working behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, and a new No. 2 goalie is probably on the Rangers’ revised shopping list.

This trade also gives New York a pair of first-rounders this evening — the Rangers already held the No. 21 overall selection — which is important, given GM Jeff Gorton is without second- and third-round picks. They Blueshirts also received a good puck mover in DeAngelo, a former first-round pick himself.

DeAngelo, 21, made his NHL debut last year and scored 14 points in 39 games. He’s been described as a skilled offensive defenseman, but one with a history of disciplinary issues. That continued last year in Arizona, when he was suspended three games for abuse of an official.

More to follow…

 

Chicago Fire: ‘Hawks re-acquire Saad, send Panarin to Columbus as massive shakeup continues

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Stan Bowman has made good on his promise for big changes in Chicago.

Just minutes after sending longtime defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, Bowman got the band back together by re-acquiring former ‘Hawk Brandon Saad, who he traded to Columbus two years ago.

Per Sportsnet, the Blue Jackets will receive Artemi Panarin in exchange. Right now it’s unclear if any other pieces are involved in the deal, though earlier the ‘Hawks were reportedly looking to move up to the No. 7 pick in tonight’s draft, a pick Arizona currently holds.

UPDATE: Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Chicago will also get goalie Anton Forsberg and Columbus’ fifth-round pick in 2018. Columbus will get Tyler Motte and Chicago’s sixth-round pick this year.

Saad left Chicago shortly after the 2015 Stanley Cup win, in a deal that landed the ‘Hawks Artem Aninisov and a handful of others. The 24-year-old has since gone on to score 31 and 24 goals in his two years with the Blue Jackets.

Immediately after Saad left, Panarin joined the ‘Hawks and immediately stepped in as a frontline contributor. He’s posted back-to-back 30-goal campaigns — capturing the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie in 2016 — and has been a dynamic offensive player, often alongside Patrick Kane.

As for the money involved, both carry identical $6 million hits. Big difference is that Saad’s locked in through 2021, whereas Panarin is eligible to be a UFA in 2019. So there’s certainly more cost certainty for Bowman with this trade.

More to follow…

After helping ‘change the culture,’ Greene’s Kings career ends with buyout

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The Los Angeles Kings made it official on Friday and bought out the remaining years of defenseman Matt Greene‘s contract.

Greene spent nine years as a member of the Kings, winning two Stanley Cups with the team in 2011-12 and 2013-14.

In a statement announcing the move, team president Luc Robitaille spoke about Greene’s impact on the organization and how he helped change the team’s culture as soon as he arrived.

“Matt has made incredible contributions to our hockey club and we are very grateful for everything he has done since joining our organization including his outstanding leadership,” said Robitaille.

“Upon his arrival to Los Angeles he played a significant role in helping change the culture of the Kings and his contributions to our two Stanley Cups in particular is immeasurable.”

Injuries have completely decimated Greene’s career in recent years, limiting him to just 154 games over the past five seasons.

The buyout will cost the Kings a salary cap hit of $833,333 for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Trade: Chicago sends Hjalmarsson to Coyotes for Murphy, Dauphin

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One of the key pieces of Chicago’s three Stanley Cup championships is on the move.

Blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson, who’s spent his entire 10-year career with the Blackhawks, has been dealt to Arizona in exchange for fellow defenseman Connor Murphy, and prospect Laurent Dauphin.

Hjalmarsson, 30, has been a staple of the Chicago defense for quite some time. He’s durable, having only missed 11 games over the last four seasons, and has earned his reputation as a reliable top-four defensive defenseman.

As for the financials, Hjalmarsson has two years remaining on a five-year, $20.5 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. It’s worth noting he has a modified no-trade clause, in which he had to submit a 10-team trade list.

Murphy, 24, just wrapped the first of a six-year, $23.1 million deal with a $3.85M hit. That he was moved has to come as some surprise, given he signed a lengthy extension just last summer and, at the time, GM John Chayka said Murphy was “a guy we think can be part of our leadership group for a long time moving forward.”

Murphy appeared in 77 games for the Coyotes last year, scoring 17 points. It’s probably worth noting his TOI actually decreased after signing his extension, from 20:30 in ’15-16 to just 19:11 last year.

Dauphin, 22, was the 39th overall pick in 2013. He split last year between Arizona and AHL Tucson, and was a good scorer at the minor league level (28 points in 38 games).