PITTSBURGH — He came into the Stanley Cup Final as the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite.
But Pekka Rinne isn’t the favorite anymore. If anything, his struggles the past two games — Wednesday night in particular — are the single biggest reason the Predators are going back to Nashville trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0.
Rinne allowed four goals on 25 shots in Game 2, a 4-1 Nashville loss. The first goal, Jake Guentzel slipped the puck past Rinne, who normally would’ve been able to seal the side of the net. The second goal, coming just 10 seconds into the third, Rinne kicked out a juicy rebound to Guentzel, who fired it home to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
Then, moments after the Predators’ second own goal in as many games, Evgeni Malkin ended Rinne’s night with a top-shelf snipe. Backup Juuse Saros came in at the 3:28 mark of the third, making his first appearance of the playoffs. But by that point, the game was all but over.
“I felt we played a strong game, created a lot of chances, the first two periods especially,” Rinne said afterwards. “Come the third period, a quick goal. After that, two odd-man rushes in a row.”
This is not the first time the Penguins have made a well-regarded goalie look bad this postseason. They did it to Vezina Trophy favorite Sergei Bobrovsky in the first round. They did it to the reigning Vezina winner, Braden Holtby, in the second round. Pittsburgh is an opportunistic team with the talent to convert on its chances.
In the dressing room after Game 2, Rinne’s teammates took their share of the responsibility for the result.
“It’s not his fault by any means,” said captain Mike Fisher. “We need to be better in front of him.”
“He’s been unbelievable for us in the playoffs. We wouldn’t be here without him,” said defenseman Roman Josi, whose failed pinch at the start of the third period led to Guentzel’s game-winner. “We’ve got to do a much better job in front of him.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette sang a similar tune.
“Pekka’s been terrific through these entire playoffs,” said Laviolette. “I think there’s things that we can do better. All three goals in the third period, we could’ve done something better. I believe all of them were odd-man rushes.”
Still, Rinne had been so good the first three rounds. He was 12-4 with a .945 save percentage entering the Cup final. His teammates were calling him the backbone of the Preds.
Against the Penguins, it’s been such a different story. The defending champs have eight goals on just 36 shots against the 34-year-old Finn. That’s a save percentage of .778.
“You have to put it behind you,” said Rinne. “I treat this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I played a long time for a chance to play for the Cup. You just have to bury these two games and move ahead.”
Game 3 goes Saturday in Nashville.