The Penguins are surely doing lots of good things to be up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final after last night’s 4-1 win. They were the league’s highest-scoring team this year, and for brief explosions in both games in which they were generally outworked, they’ve been able to solve the Predators’ elite defense. They are doing something right, and they deserve credit.
But what are we here for if we can’t call soft goals soft?
This first-period Jake Guentzel goal? So soft I was wondering if Pekka Rinne doesn’t have a six-hole, a giant gaping hole in the middle of his gut:
This rebound to set up Guentzel’s go-ahead goal just 10 seconds in to the third? Soft as butter:
(Somewhere between these goals, Guentzel, a nice American boy, wrested the title of Conn Smythe favorite away from Rinne.)
Rinne is the biggest reason the Predators are in the finals, and everyone knows it. But things have gotten progressively worse for the 34-year-old Finn over the course of the playoffs. Against Chicago, his save percentage was .976. Against St. Louis, .932. Against Anaheim, .925. All of that could be described as coming down to earth, and those were still good numbers—there were only three bad games in there. But now, against Pittsburgh through two games, he’s at .777.
Will he even get a chance to improve that? Backup goalie Juuse Saros entered for Rinne after the Penguins scored thrice in 3:18 to put the game away early in the third, and wasn’t really tested. Coach Peter Laviolette was aggressively noncommittal when asked point-blank, twice, if Rinne would be his starter in Game 3 on Saturday. Laviolette: “Pekka has been excellent for us all year long, like I said.”
It’s a tricky thing, making a decision on a struggling goaltender. Is he struggling because he’s actually lost something? Or was he just briefly mentally unhorsed? The distinction between the two is a small one in a profession that plays out largely in the brain, and which is populated by potentially fragile weirdos to begin with. Does Rinne’s first three rounds outweigh these genuinely awful last two games? Shit, man, I’m glad I’m not in charge of that call. But I’d stick with Rinne, if only because Juuse Saros is not exactly a Marc-Andre Fleury just waiting to be plugged in.
The truly odd thing about this series is how jagged it’s been, with each team dominating for discrete stretches. (Laviolette said, pretty accurately, that the Predators have been clearly the better team for all but 10 minutes of this series.) This chart, of the Penguins’ second-period shots, is stunning:
And then, in just the first minutes of the third, there were three Pittsburgh rushes, all resulting in goals. What the hell happened? Some things are obvious. Rinne isn’t being tested much but he’s failing when he is. The Penguins are taking overfull advantage of their limited opportunities. Some things are less obvious, like how the Predators, sporting the clear best four defensemen in this series, have collapsed so quickly and completely in front of Rinne multiple times. Maybe this is a function of experience, of nerves. The Penguins have been here. The Predators have not.
“It’s very disappointing. I treat this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rinne said. “I’ve played for a long time and this is the first time playing for a Cup.”
“[Pittsburgh’s] a championship team in there,” P.K. Subban said. “They know how to win. At the end of the day you have to work hard to get bounces. They work hard and get bounces. You have to give them credit. They capitalized on mistakes. We’ve got guys in here who are learning. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get better.”
There’s just not much time left. In the history of the NHL, 50 teams have grabbed a 2-0 lead in the final. Forty-five of them won the Cup.