NASHVILLE – Pekka Rinne is smiling. I’m not sure why.
He’s smiling after getting pulled in his second Stanley Cup Final game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, making six saves on nine shots in a Game 5 loss that pushed the Nashville Predators to the brink of elimination. He’s smiling, having that loss fester inside his head for days. He’s smiling despite demonstrably proof, through the last two games, that either the Predators’ defense has sprung a leak or the Penguins have figured out a thing or two offensively.
He’s smiling because he’s let it go.
“I was angry after the first period. I’m a competitive guy. But it’s all behind us,” said Rinne on Saturday, again, smiling. “You’re not happy, obviously. But I never take it personally. It’s not about me. It’s all about us. The reasoning behind it, I always believe, is to wake up the team.”
The Predators didn’t wake up. The Predators were curb-stomped, 6-0, as the Penguins controlled play from the opening whistle to the final buzzer.
“We just weren’t ready for what they were going to do,” said forward James Neal. “I think we felt too comfortable with how we played in the last couple. Just weren’t ready. We’ll be better.”
There’s every reason to believe that the Predators will be better. Their feet are back on Nashville soil, and they have been as close to unbeatable here in the playoffs as you can get: 9-1 overall, having given up 15 goals in 10 games for a 1.44 goals-against average.
Rinne has a .949 save percentage when playing in Nashville. The Predators, to a man, support him, despite his struggles on the road in this series.
“It’s never fun for a goalie to get pulled. But it wasn’t his fault at all. We just didn’t play well in front of him,” said defenseman Roman Josi. “We have no doubt in him.”
Rinne, to his credit, has never been woe-is-me despite a defense in front of him that’s allowed more chances to the Penguins in the last two games than in the previous three.
The Penguins had 13 high-danger scoring chances in Games 1-3. They had 24 in G4-5. The Predators' past two games have been poor defensively.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) June 9, 2017
Some of that is the defense. Some of that is the offense. And some of that is a bounce or two that hasn’t gone Rinne’s way.
“You have those thoughts. Why pucks are getting deflected in off our guys, or something like that. You try to work so hard. When bounces aren’t going your way, you have second thoughts in your head. But that’s life,” he said.
Indeed. And life is good when you’re still playing in June … even if the Stanley Cup will be in the building on Sunday, and the Penguins are the only ones currently eligible to raise it.
“Definitely keep it in the box,” said Neal of the Holy Grail. “But I think we’re just more focused on ourselves, focused on having a good start to the game, focused on being consistent with our game. It’s a do or die situation for us.”
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