“I don’t know what he needed to prove to anybody,” Austin Watson said of goaltender Pekka Rinne, but I think it was pretty obvious. Rinne had been awful in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final. He needed to prove he hadn’t collapsed completely—that he could, at the very least, again be the perfectly fine goalie he’s been throughout a long career, good enough to allow the aggressive Predators offense to win games. That he might so quickly regain his otherworldly form of earlier in the playoffs felt like too much to hope for.
Rinne has now made 50 saves against two goals in the last two games, and the series is tied. He’s proven that Games 1 and 2 were the flukes, not the Conn Smythe case he’d put together leading up to them. He’s proven that it would have been a terrible mistake to switch goalies when the series shifted to Nashville. He’s proven that brief mental lapses on the biggest stage of his career were not crippling; better goalies than he have lost their confidence on the big stage and not regained it so quickly.
“You always have ups and downs,” Rinne said. “You try to stay even keel. … But I’m sure at the end of the day when you look back, it’s a rollercoaster. It’s an emotional ride. So it’s no different, these finals. Obviously the first two games, we did a lot of good things. Personally [I] wasn’t really happy with my game. But these two games, they’ve been huge for us. Personally too, it’s a game of confidence being a goalie.”
Rinne was masterful in Nashville’s 4-1 win, and he needed to be. It was tied or a one-goal game for the first 33 minutes and change, and Pittsburgh challenged constantly. Rinne had to lunge to his left to get a pad on a Jake Guentzel one-timer set up by a Sidney Crosby seeing-eye pass. A minute later, he stoned Chris Kunitz on a breakaway.
But Rinne’s biggest coup was this sequence midway through the second, four saves in four seconds, including a diving stop on a Jake Guentzel that Rinne likened to “a soccer save.”
The Nashville PA played the Superman theme at the next break.
“That was incredible,” Austin Watson said. “He saved our butt a few times tonight and we knew he would. He is incredible.”
It was a huge moment, preventing the Penguins from tying things up. Viktor Arvidsson would score two minutes later to finally, finally give Rinne some breathing room.
The final is now a best-of-three, and we’re guaranteed one more game in Nashville—where the Predators are 9-1 this postseason, and Rinne has a .949 save percentage, the second-best home numbers of any playoff goalie in the last decade. This will come down to, as many-to-most series do, the goaltending. And all of a sudden, in just 48 hours, it’s Matt Murray on the ropes and the Predators feeling good.