It's the best time of year!
As the Nashville Predators stepped off the plane after a long flight home from Vancouver on Sunday, a couple hundred fans greeted them. The player that received the loudest cheers in the airport terminal was Pekka Rinne, who has raised eyebrows with his highlight reel-worthy saves early on in the second round.
In two games against the Vancouver Canucks, Rinne has stopped 61 of 63 shots steered his way from the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season. In doing so, he is a main reason why a) the Sedins have been held pointless and b) why the Predators are heading into Game 3 with the series tied.
“He saved us,” Captain Shea Weber said of Rinne. “In Game 1, he gave us a chance to tie that game up. Game 2, he won that game for us.”
Rinne especially turned heads when he made a handful of dazzling saves, one after another, in overtime of Game 2. He stoned Kevin Bieksa’s odd-man-rush one-timer with his blocker, stopped Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre point-blank and even rolled over on his back to make an acrobatic save on Daniel Sedin.
When Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz was asked about what he said to himself when Rinne made that game-saving stop on Bieksa, he said: “Holy sh--! Did he just save that?!”
The Preds controlled the play for a good portion of Game 2 after their lackluster series-opening loss on Thursday. But in overtime, Vancouver had the bulk of the scoring chances. That’s where Rinne made the difference. Although he was under siege for most of overtime before Matt Halischuk’s game-winning goal, the Vezina Trophy finalist said it wasn’t too hard on him mentally.
“You play for so long,” Rinne said, “that you think that it’s not the time to give up a goal and just try to do everything you can to stay in the game. I had a strong belief that we would score – and we did eventually. That was just a big relief.”
This success against the Canucks comes after an up-and-down first round series. Rinne struggled throughout that series with Anaheim, posting a .876 save percentage. But he responded well in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Ducks, and the three-day rest between games was to his advantage.
“In the first series, Peks will tell you that he wasn’t on his A-game,” said Trotz. “We played well and allowed that series to come our way by bailing him out for once. In the first two games [against Vancouver], Peks has been the one to bail us out. He’s done it all year and it was good that we could give him a little breather.”
The last two games has been a lot more of the Pekka Rinne that Preds fans have grown accustomed to seeing. As the series shifts to Nashville, the team hopes he can keep it up as they look to continue to make history.
“He’s been there bailing us out all year,” said Ryan Suter, who also played a key part in the Game 2 victory. “He did in Game 2 and hopefully he continues to play well.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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