Pekka Rinne‘s time in the Nashville Predators organization predates the second lockout.
He’s been with this club since the 2004 NHL Draft. In their nine previous playoff appearances, the Predators never made it beyond the second round. The second round? They didn’t achieve that feat until 2011.
They showed signs last year of a team that could go on a prolonged playoff run. They lost in Game 7 of the second round with a roster full of promising young talent, and then went out in the offseason and landed P.K. Subban to add to an already good blue line.
This season didn’t start out so great for the Predators, and they qualified for the playoffs with a wild card position. Where they finished in the standings has become a distant memory.
After all of that time spent stopping pucks for Nashville and after those previous postseason defeats, Rinne and the Predators find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final, tied 2-2 against the Penguins with Game 5 on Thursday, in what has become a best-of-three situation for a championship.
He’ll take it.
At 34 years of age, and with more than 500 games played in the NHL, this is his first trip to the final.
“It’s amazing,” said Rinne, who was sensational in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, helping the Predators even the series. “Best time of my life. Obviously you don’t want to look back yet, but I’ve been playing for a long time and never had this opportunity. So, it means everything to me right now. I’m just living my dream right now.”
Another Nashville veteran, Mike Fisher, who has been with the Predators since 2011, is in the midst of his second Stanley Cup Final appearance. He made it this far with the Ottawa Senators in 2007, but they were outmatched against the Ducks, losing quickly in five games.
The Predators captain is 37 years old, having celebrated the date two days ago with a win. After going through three rounds without even registering a point, Fisher has four assists in the final. But, as a pending UFA, he also currently doesn’t have a contract for next season, and at this juncture of his playing career, he may not get another opportunity to reach this point again.
“I’m trying to enjoy everything. I think the whole run is incredible,” said Fisher. “It’s a grind. It’s hard to get here, so when you do get here, you’ve got to make the most of it. I think our guys have done a good job of just staying focused and realizing what we’ve got to do.”
Despite the fact they’ve carried play for large portions of this series — not allowing a single shot on goal for a 37-minute stretch in Game 1 — the Predators fell behind 2-0 in the series, after the Penguins were able to score eight goals combined against Rinne in Games 1 and 2.
But in Nashville, the tables turned. The Predators not only dictated the play at times, but they were able to solve Matt Murray, while Rinne stood on his head. It has all come together to set up this scenario.
“It’s pedal down,” said Fisher. “We’re ready.”