Predators have act together more than Jets early in season


NASHVILLE—Pekka Rinne glanced over his shoulder as he stripped off his goalie gear.

“Guess you guys don’t have any choice, huh?” he quipped to the media horde in the otherwise empty Nashville dressing room.

There was a pause. Then a lighthearted,”Guess you don’t either.” A laugh. “No, that’s true,” chuckled Rinne.

That he knew exactly what the questions would be, all referring back to one of the worst nights of his career as a professional goalie, was the subtext to the friendly back-and-forth.

You remember, don’t you? He’ll never forget. With less than 11 minutes elapsed in Game 7 of Nashville’s second round series with Winnipeg last May, Rinne had given up two goals and found himself out of the game and stapled to the bench. Pulled earlier in a Game 7 than any goalie in NHL history, and his team was eliminated.

That he won the Vezina Trophy as the game’s best netminder a month later only helped a little. Then came this fall, and in training camp, Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette made it clear that 23-year-old backup Juuse Saros was going to make more than the 26 appearances he made last season.

“This is going to happen this year,” said Laviolette. “Juuse is a great goalie. He’s going to play.”

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Not easy for a proud veteran like Rinne to take. Even tougher in a contract year. Saros started the second game of the season and won, and then in Nashville’s home opener on Tuesday, Rinne was outplayed by Calgary’s Mike Smith and lost.

Which set the stage nicely for Thursday’s first meeting with the Jets this season. Rinne got the net, although you certainly wondered if Saros might.

And the big Finn responded in the best possible way.

His 28-save shutout over the suddenly punchless Jets won’t erase the memories of that Game 7, but it gets this season rolling in the proper fashion. Winnipeg took way too many penalties in the meat of the game, giving Rinne almost a full period without any shots. But he started with a nice save on Dustin Byfuglien and ended it by stoning Jets captain Blake Wheeler on a shorthanded breakaway, so the overall result was more than satisfactory.

“After losing the first home game, uh, this was a nice response by all of us,” said Rinne. “It’s Winnipeg. We just lost to them in playoffs. So for sure you could sense there was a lot of emotion on the ice.”

Being a top-notch goalie requires a short memory, the saying goes, and Rinne tried to make his listeners believe the last thing on his mind on this night was his Game 7 meltdown.

“No. No. It’s a new season,” he said. “Any time you get a chance to play one of the top teams you want to play really well. I’m happy right now after a good game, a good win.”

Fair enough. …read more

Source:: Sportsnet

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