NASHVILLE – When the Nashville Predators needed their best player to step up and play better than he did in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final; Pekka Rinne rose to the occasion.
After allowing eight goals in Games 1 and 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rinne has been a vital factor in why this series is now tied up 2-2. With 27 saves on Saturday and 23 more in Game 4, the Finnish netminder is to back to the form that helped the Predators roll through three rounds en route to the Final.
“He’s the backbone of our team. I think everybody’s been consistent in saying that all season,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. “Throughout his career he’s been so important to this franchise. He’s our best player pretty much every night. We’re going to need that to continue to have success.”
No one expected Rinne to continue his otherworldly performances from the opening round against Chicago where he posted a pair of shutouts during a four-game sweep, and it didn’t as his numbers slowly dipped over the next two rounds. It all came to a head in Game 1 against the Penguins where they scored four times on 11 shots. Two days later, he was pulled after Pittsburgh blew open the game with three goals in the opening three minutes of the second period.
“You always have ups and downs. You try to stay even keel,” Rinne said Monday night. “Playoffs is always, even this year, I don’t want to really look back yet. We have work to be done. I’m sure at the end of the day when you look back it’s a rollercoaster and it’s an emotional ride. It’s no different, these finals. Obviously the first two games we did a lot of good things. Personally, wasn’t really happy with my game, but these two games have been huge for us.
“It’s a game of confidence being a goalie.”
If you’re a goalie that confidence will rise and fall depending on how many times the red light is being turned on behind you. In Game 4, Rinne’s confidence may have been at its highest midway through the second period when he denied a breakaway from Sidney Crosby, who scored in similar fashion in the first period, as well as two follow-up chances during a mad scramble in his crease.
It’s not just goalies who can get a lift from big saves. Minutes after Rinne’s flurry of stops, Viktor Arvidsson broke a 15-game goal drought to give Nashville a 3-1 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.
“It doesn’t need to be highlight-reel saves but when you make a timely save, especially, it really is a confidence boost,” Rinne said. “I feel like a lot of times after that things kind of seem to slow down in your eyes and maybe you see the puck a little better, anticipate a little better. It is always a helpful thing.”
The Predators need the Pekka Rinne who was in net for the two games in Nashville to join them on the plane heading to Pittsburgh for Game 5 Thursday night. The series is now a best of three and now every goal will be magnified.
“He was extremely competitive tonight. He was on point,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He was a difference maker.”
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