PITTSBURGH — The dominant theme of the Stanley Cup Final played out again on Thursday night:
It’s good to be at home.
For the fifth straight game, the home team emerged victorious — only this time it was in a rout, as Pittsburgh whipped Nashville 6-0 at PPG Paints to take a three games to two series lead.
Pittsburgh can now win its second consecutive Stanley Cup on Sunday, when Game 6 goes in Nashville.
It was a dominant, balanced and thorough effort from the Penguins, who got their six goals from six different skaters: Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Ron Hainsey. Twelve different skaters registered at least one point, with Sidney Crosby leading the way with three.
It was a virtuoso performance the captain.
Crosby dominated from the opening shift, drawing a penalty 50 seconds in, then had a hand in nearly everything that transpired. He was a catalyst in chasing Preds starting netminder Pekka Rinne, assisting on Schultz’s power-play goal, one of three to beat Rinne in the opening frame.
Crosby set up Sheary for the fourth goal, and Kessel for the fifth. He also tangled with nemesis P.K. Subban — punching Subban in the back of the head repeatedly during a late first period skirmish — and even tossed a water bottle onto the playing surface (it was an accident, apparently.)
And if it wasn’t Crosby influencing things, it was one of his teammates. Pretty much everything went Pittsburgh’s way on the night, which was fitting. It’s been that way at PPG Paints all series long.
The Pens have now outscored Nashville 15-4 at home, with the majority of that damage coming at Rinne’s expense. The beleaguered netminder — who’d redeemed himself so well in Games 3 and 4 — now owns some absolutely horrific road numbers: 0-3 record, 5.41 GAA, and a .756 save percentage.
Rinne’s performance was just one in a series of Nashville lowlights. The Preds were shut out for the first time this series, looked discombobulated defensively and, to add injury to insult, lost defenseman Ryan Ellis to an apparent lower-body ailment in the second period.
If there’s a silver lining for the Preds, it’s what we mentioned at the top. Home teams have held serve throughout this series — a perfect 5-0 — and the next game is back in the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena.
Of course, that won’t mean a thing if Nashville plays like it did tonight.
Matt Murray recorded his second shutout of the postseason and first in this series, stopping all 24 shots faced… Juuse Saros made 12 saves in relief of Rinne, allowing three goals… Things boiled over in the third period with a series of fights and questionable hits. As a result, the teams finished with a combined 98 penalty minutes… Colton Sissons received a match penalty late in the tilt for a crosscheck to the face of Pens d-man Olli Maatta… The team that has won Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Stanley Cup Final has gone on to win it 17 of 24 times (70.8 percent) since the series adopted the best-of-seven format in 1939… The club that has lost Game 5 has rebounded to win the series in four of the past eight such occasions. All have been since 2001: Colorado Avalanche (2001), Tampa Bay Lightning (2004), Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) and Boston Bruins (2011).