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Penguins push Predators to the brink with 6-0 win in Game 5

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Sidney Crosby had three assists, Phil Kessel had a goal and a pair of helpers and Matt Murray stopped all 24 shots he faced as the Penguins pulled within one win of their second straight Stanley Cup with a 6-0 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

In just 50 seconds, the tone of an entire 60-minute game was set.

Sidney Crosby took the puck from center ice, took into the offensive zone, split two defenders and hit the post, just missing the back of the net.  The captain then corralled his own rebound and drew a holding penalty on Ryan Ellis.

Justin Schultz (4) would score just 41 seconds later—a one-timer from the blue line off an angled pass by Crosby—giving the Penguins the game-winner, which turned into a 6-0 stampeding over Nashville in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night.

“When he’s driving like that it pushes everybody to be better,” said Chris Kunitz of Crosby.  “When the captain drives the middle, splits two guys and hits one off the post; and we get one off of the power play because of his second effort on the puck.  That is something that drives everybody to try and be better and go out there and work.”

Crosby finished with three assists, while overseeing a surgical takeover of the first period, in which Pittsburgh hung three goals on goalie Pekka Rinne, who was pulled for the latter 40 minutes of play. 

Bryan Rust (7) and Evgeni Malkin, who punched in his team’s second-best 10th postseason goal, each scored carbon copy goals, going top-shelf on Rinne’s glove side.  Malkin’s goal came on a 4-on-4 with just 11 seconds left in the period, after a Crosby and P.K. Subban scuffle landed both teams with holding minors.

“The whole team did a great job tonight.  We played all 60 minutes,” said Malkin, who finished with the goal and an assist, landing with a team-best 18 postseason points.  “We are excited to be back home after two losses.  We knew this was a huge game for us.  It feels great, for sure.  It was a good game but it is still not done.  We have to win one more.”

Rinne, who has yet to win a game in Pittsburgh, surrendered three goals on nine shots.  His replacement, Juuse Saros was peppered with 24 shots, giving up the latter three goals, including the first shot he faced on a Conor Sheary finish just 1:19 into the second period.

Phil Kessel then ended his Stanley Cup scoring drought, punching in his eighth goal of the postseason on a wrister over Saros just two shots later.

“I know we've got to be better in front of him,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette.  “If you go back and look at the goals and the way they were scored, you give up a power play early on, the next two we need better coverage.”

As a team, the Predators committed a total of 14 penalties, with 11 of those coming in the third period.

The most vicious Nashville infraction came from Austin Watson, who earned a 10-minute misconduct with just 34 seconds left in the game, after crosschecking Olli Maatta to the mouth, forcing the bloodied defenseman off the ice.

“He crosschecks his face.  I think it’s a dirty play, but we’re okay,” said Malkin when discussing the aggressive tone Nashville brought in the third period.  “We’re ready for the next game now.  Every game is physical.”

The exacerbated aggression of Nashville did not stop journeyman defenseman Ron Hainsey from rolling back the clock, putting together a zone-to-zone skating clinic resulting in a one-timing twine tickler to close the scoring with just under three minutes left in the second period.

“This is a great win, a great night, but come tomorrow it is going to have to be parked, because we have one win that we need to get to reach the goal here,” said the 36-year-old, who finished with 20:56 of ice time Thursday.

Lost in the shuffle was Matt Murray’s impeccable performance, which yielded the sophomore’s third career postseason shutout, stopping all 24 of Nashville’s shots.

“He’s been good all the time for us,” said Schultz of Murray.  “We always rely on him back there.  Tonight, he was huge again.  He made some key saves for us at key times.”

Coach Mike Sullivan talked about the complete effort he saw from his team Thursday night.

“As far as our team's overall game, that is, hands down, the best game that we've played in this series to this point.  I believe this team has gotten better with each game that it's played.  We said that after coming out of Game 4 in Nashville.  There was a lot to like about that game.  We felt as though there was a lot to like about that game.  I think sometimes people can get fooled by the scores of games, but we don't.  We understand it, and I think we try to keep an objective assessment of our games.”

The Penguins will look to close out the series and hoist their second Stanley Cup in consecutive season’s Sunday night, when they travel back to Bridgestone Arena to face the Predators in Nashville.  Puck drops at 8 PM.

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