Guentzel, Malkin, Murray give Penguins 2-0 Stanley Cup lead. So who is the MVP?

It’s Crosby, isn’t it? It’s always Crosby.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
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It took Jake Guentzel just 10 seconds into the third period to net his second goal of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, putting the Penguins up 2-1 in what was, to that point, a game that could have gone either way. The Penguins played better in Game 2 than they did in the Cup Final opener through two periods, but still the Nashville Predators were the aggressors, outplaying Pittsburgh for most of the contest.

That is, until Guentzel’s goal. And Scott Wilson’s three minutes later, which careened off a defender after a Phil Kessel pass, much like Pittsburgh’s third goal did in Game 1. And if there was any doubt left after going up 3-1, Geno ended that 15 seconds later.

Malkin scored his ninth goal of the playoffs, three behind Guentzel for the playoff lead, but Malkin still has more points than anyone in the NHL this postseason. If his top-shelf strike said anything, it was less a message to the Predators about who was taking control of this series, and more a message to his rookie teammate about who’s going to take home the Conn Smythe trophy when the Pens win the Cup.

Patric Hornqvist scored to make the game 5-1 but it was disallowed upon review because of a barely offsides call. No, it wasn’t a Crosby goal and, sure, it was inconsequential in the outcome of the game, but I did tell you this would happen and Pens fans would hate it as much as they liked it in Game 1.

Alas, the Pens took a game they looked for sure they might lose and made it another blowout, their fifth playoff win of three goals or more this postseason.

By no means is this series over, so don’t park your chair for the parade just yet. Nashville’s home ice advantage is huge, as the crowd down there is crazy, and they’ve won seven of their eight home games this playoff season. But after surviving Game 1 and most of Game 2, the Penguins did what the Penguins do: They scored like crazy and took control of a series. In Stanley Cup history the team up 2-0 has won 45 of 50 times. The Pens are in great position to add to the list.

With that, it’s time to look at some playoff MVP candidates. Who’s in the running for the Conn Smythe trophy after Game 2?

Evgeni Malkin

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Malkin has 26 points in 21 games. Without question, he has been the best player in the playoffs, scoring nine goals and adding 17 assists, with a plus-10 through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. That’s … pretty great. Malkin is shooting at 17 percent this postseason, on pace with his regular season, but by far the best playoff rate of his career.

Malkin has taken too many silly penalties this postseason — his hug-like fight with PK Subban put him at 47 PIM through his 21 games. That, plus he oddly doesn’t have a game-winning goal yet this postseason, and he’s losing more faceoffs than he’s won. But still, there’s little question Malkin has been the best player this postseason. The fact he has two goals in the Stanley Cup Final on two official shots says a lot.

Jake Guentzel

Guentzel had the benefit Wednesday of really poor goaltending for Nashville, but he was still the right guy in the right spot at the right time.

Guentzel has three goals in two games, including both game winners. Through the playoffs, he has 12 goals — two off the record for most by a rookie in NHL playoff history — and he has five game-winners, which is just nuts. And it’s a record.

It’s hard to believe the rookie was almost pulled from the lineup as a healthy scratch earlier in the postseason after 10 chances in the Ottawa series he didn’t convert. Now, after converting on his 11th and 12th in Game 2, he’s in the conversation for MVP. It’s amazing what putting the puck in the net can do for a kid.

Matt Murray

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
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It’s also amazing what stopping the puck can do for a kid.

Murray, also still somehow a rookie, stopped 37 of 38 shots in Game 2, a .974 save rate, and kept the Penguins in a game for two periods they really had no business being in at all. The Penguins had as many shots (12) in the first period of Game 2 as they had in all of Game 1, but they still let up 18 in the first period, with Murray allowing just one to get past him on an amazing individual effort by Pontus Alberg.

It’s hard to blame Murray for that, and while he did give up three goals in Game 1, he was peppered all contest and ended up with enough saves — 23 on 26 shots — to keep the Penguins level before Guentzel’s eventual winner.

It’s hard to believe that Murray has only started five games this postseason, winning four, with a .936 save percentage and 1.62 goals against average. After Murray got hurt before the first game against Columbus, the Penguins’ chances of getting to the Stanley Cup Final looked bleak. But Marc-Andre Fleury was a star as his replacement. Until he wasn’t, and Murray had to come back in to save the day for Pittsburgh. He’s done nothing short of that since his return, and while much of the talk is understandably about the offense, Murray has more than made up for the paper-thin defense this series.

Pekka Rinne

Five of his last seven games, Rinne has given up at least three goals. In the Pens series, he’s given up eight goals on 36 shots, a .778 save percentage. That doesn’t include the empty netter in Game 1 either. And he just cannot beat the Penguins.

Were it not for his awful play — after coming into the series as statistically the best goalie in the entire NHL playoffs — the Pens wouldn’t be up 2-0. With even a remotely competent Rinne in net, the Penguins could be down 0-2 and wondering, themselves, if it’s time to go back to Fleury in net.

Sidney Crosby

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He’s the best player on the planet. He’s the captain. He’s got seven goals and 15 assists in the playoffs despite being just a plus-1 in 20 games played. He had a terrible scoring drought during the last round that almost cost the Pens the series, and missed part of the series before that with a concussion. But it’s Sid the Kid! Of course he’s going to get Conn Smythe consideration. He might even win it.