Under Pressure: Pekka Rinne

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Nashville Predators, we pick…Pekka Rinne.

The $49 million netminder is facing a number of questions, so let’s start with the biggest one:

How’s his health?

Rinne, who turns 31 in November, underwent hip arthroscopy during the offseason, a major procedure that sidelined him for nearly four months.

Though he’s yet to fully recover, Rinne insists he’ll “be 100 percent on opening night,” and is keen to put the 2013 campaign behind him, a season he called “so disappointing.”

Which leads to the second question: What happened last year?

While he shouldered his usual heavy workload, playing in 43 of Nashville’s 48 games, the lanky Finn wasn’t nearly as effective as previous seasons. As a result, the Preds missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The most startling number was his drop in save percentage. After posting a .923 and .930 in back-to-back years, Rinne finished 26th among NHL netminders last year with a .910.

But that decrease comes with an asterisk. Preds head coach Barry Trotz said Rinne was playing hurt all year, trying to win games in which he was getting little offensive support. What’s more, the club couldn’t rely on backup Chris Mason, who struggled in limited action and is now tending goal in the Italian league.

This leads us to the third pressing question: How much will Rinne need to carry the Preds this year?

Most figure Nashville isn’t going anywhere unless Rinne plays often and plays well, but it’s unclear if the team will reprise Rinne’s 2011-12 workload, when he set league highs in games (73), shots faced (2,153) and finished second in minutes played (4,168).

It’s a lot to ask of someone coming off major hip surgery.

Of course, managing Rinne’s minutes won’t be easy. Nashville’s new backup goalie is 27-year-old Carter Hutton, a former Chicago farmhand with 58 minutes of total NHL experience. It harkens back to when the Preds made Anders Lindback the No. 2 in 2010-11. Prior to getting the gig, Lindback had zero NHL games to his credit.

Lindback did have success in his rookie year, playing in 22 games and posting solid numbers (11-5-2, .915 save percentage, 2.60 GAA). Preds goalie coach Mitch Korn praised the Rinne-Lindback tandem, saying “every good team needs two competent, successful goalies,” adding, “it’s a long season.”

it’s possible Hutton could be in line for a similar workload, especially if Rinne has issues with his hip.

All this said, and as obvious as this sounds, the Preds aren’t going anywhere unless Rinne returns to the form that netted him consecutive Vezina nominations in ’11 and ’12.

Anything less, and it’s probably another year of missing the playoffs.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

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When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

Here’s the Wagner goal:

You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

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Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

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So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.