Pekka Rinne. Image by: Getty Images
Pekka Rinne gave up three goals on nine shots and was pulled for the second time in the series. Now they need him to be at his best at home again in Game 6.
Pekka Rinne is the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL playoff MVP.
Not counting games played in Pittsburgh, of course.
The Nashville Predators goaltender was pulled for the second time in three games at PPG Paints Arena in the Stanley Cup final, this time after giving up three goals on nine shots in the first period of Game 5. Backup goalie Juuse Saros didn’t fare much better, surrendering three more goals en route to a 6-0 defeat and 3-2 series deficit. Rinne, who wasn’t yanked once in 16 games through the first three rounds of the post-season, has lost all three games the Preds have played in Pittsburgh, giving up 11 goals on 45 shots in the process.
“Obviously it wasn’t the Game 5 we wanted to play, but that’s life,” said Rinne, who also gave up three goals in the first period of Game 1 and was eventually pulled. “The first two games here we played pretty well, and tonight it was game over after a couple periods.
“It’s not the start you want to have, they scored an early one on the power play to get things going and it seemed hard for us to get anything going.”
The Penguins’ Justin Schultz fired a seeing-eye slapshot that went undetected – and undeflected – through traffic and past Rinne just 91 seconds into the game, and this was after Sidney Crosby had already beaten Rinne – but not the goalpost – on the opening shift.
“(Austin Watson) tried to block the shot and it just came through, and after that if you don’t pick it up it’s too late to react and unfortunately it went in,” said Rinne of Schultz’s tally.
The series of unfortunate events continued for Rinne, with Penguins winger Bryan Rust roofing a backhander at 6:43 and Evgeni Malkin zipping one top corner with 11 seconds remaining in the opening frame. None of the goals were Rinne’s fault, at least not entirely. But … it’s the Stanley Cup final. He’s the Preds’ most important player. He needs to stop at least one of them and give his team a chance to come back.
“It’s disappointing for sure,” Rinne said. “It’s a big game, we came here with the mission to win the game and we didn’t have the start or the game we wanted to. But this is the playoffs, this is the final, you’ve got to try and put it behind you as soon as possible. We have a couple of days to focus on Sunday’s game, that’s going to be a huge one for us.”
The good news is, Rinne heads back home to Bridgestone Arena, where he’s 9-1 in the 2017 playoffs with a 1.44 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. Compare that to his 0-3 showing in Pittsburgh, where he’s lugging a 5.39 GAA and .756 save percentage. Not exactly Conn Smythe-worthy stats, but Preds captain Mike Fisher said he wasn’t worried about how Rinne will perform going forward.
“No, I’m worried about his record now at home and it’s been outstanding,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to focus on that game, we’ve got to be better for our goaltenders, no question. Look at the shots, they’re even, but it’s scoring chances, quality chances, we’ve got to be better. It’s not our goaltender’s fault.”
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette agreed.
“I know we’ve got to better in front of him. If you look at the goals and the way they were scored, we gave up a power play early on, the next two we need better coverage, there’s things we can do better in front of him. I don’t think they were necessarily bad goals. … Our guys have a tremendous amount of confidence in him, we’ve just got to do a better job in front of him.”
For the first time in this year’s playoffs, the Predators face a win-or-it’s-all-over scenario. On the other hand, they’re just two victories away from the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
“You remind yourself that you’re still in the final and as long as there’s life, there’s hope,” Rinne said.
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