NASHVILLE — Maybe all Pekka Rinne needed was to get home.
How else to explain the stark contrast in performance between here and Pittsburgh? In Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints, Rinne struggled, allowing eight goals on 38 shots for an ugly .778 save percentage.
The Penguins were scoring goals in bunches — three in 4:11 in the first game, three in 3:18 in the second — and puck luck was non existent. Twice, one of Rinne’s teammates knocked in an own goal.
But then the series shifted to Nashville.
Statistically, Rinne’s been fantastic over the last two games, stopping 50 of 52 shots for a .961 save percentage. But this goes beyond numbers. The 34-year-old’s made a series of dramatic, crucial, gamebreaking saves.
“He was unbelievable,” head coach Peter Laviolette said on Monday night. “It seemed like some of their chances came in flurries. We let a couple people in behind us tonight, and they seemed to be flying the zone a little bit, and caught us a couple times. That led to [Sidney] Crosby’s goal, and it led to a couple other chances.
“There was at least two times at the net where [Rinne] had to make the save, and then maybe one, two or three more saves after that. In the last minute and a half, he held his left leg out there forever to stop three or four attempts. He was extremely competitive tonight. He was on point.”
There’s an interesting dynamic at play with Rinne at Bridgestone.
He, as has been well-documented, received a boisterous ovation when his name was announced for starting lineups ahead of Game 3. Many saw that as Preds fans rallying behind the longest-tenured and arguably most beloved players on the active roster. Perhaps they thought Rinne needed a little bump, especially since many pundits openly wondered if Laviolette would change his starting netminders, and go with Juuse Saros.
Rinne admitted the energy received from the home crowd is special.
“It’s my home, and I’ve been here for a long time,” he explained. “I’ve been fortunate enough to see all the great changes. The city has changed so much, the hockey has grown amazingly, and being able to be a part of it means a lot to me.
“It’s a great feeling. It doesn’t matter how much hockey you play, you get goosebumps. It really is a special feeling.”
Now he’ll hope that special feeling can translate into a win in Pittsburgh.