NASHVILLE — After two games of the Stanley Cup Final, you would’ve understood if Pekka Rinne wasn’t totally loving the experience.
His team was trailing 0-2 after he allowed eight goals on just 36 shots. Reporters were asking him what was wrong. When they weren’t doing that, they were asking Peter Laviolette about a potential goalie switch.
So when Rinne buckled down on Saturday night — stopping 27 of 28 shots in Nashville’s 5-1 victory in Game 3 — some asked how hard it was to deal with the uncertainty, the doubt, the noise.
Not very, it turns out.
“Not happy with going down two nothing but, at the same time, I didn’t try to change anything,” Rinne said during his postgame media availability. “I knew that I was playing [in Game 3] all the time.”
Because Laviolette doesn’t comment on his lineup, reporters were able to keep the will-you-start-Juuse-Saros thing going since Game 2.
Daily, one intrepid soul would ask the coach if he’d announce his starter and, daily, the coach would decline.
And that’s how you get the makings of a goalie controversy.
Adding fuel to the fire was Rinne’s ghastly .778 save percentage, and the fact he’s struggled historically against the Pens. The veteran netminder admitted his play wasn’t up to snuff.
“It’s been a battle,” Rinne explained. “I think at those moments, you just mentally try to erase your mind and just focus on the next save, and remind yourself that you’re still in the Final, and life’s pretty good.”
Rinne’s best work on Saturday came in the second period, when the Penguins fired 13 shots on net. This stretch save might’ve been his finest of the evening:
It was the kind of performance Rinne had regularly through the first three rounds of the playoffs. He was Nashville’s MVP and, heading into this final, the odds-on Conn Smythe favorite.
That could be why, in the aftermath of tonight’s game, Laviolette scoffed at the notion he’d ever go away from Rinne.
“There was no decision. No decision. Just you guys,” Laviolette said of the supposed goalie controversy. “[Rinne] was terrific. I said it after Game 2.
“He’s the backbone of our team.”