PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Nashville Predators insist goaltender Pekka Rinne isn’t to blame for the 2-0 series deficit against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Rinne is just looking to put both games in the past.
Pittsburgh overwhelmed Rinne and the rest of the Predators with a three-goal blitz in the first 3:18 of the third period during a 4-1 win Wednesday night, a game that ended with Nashville’s star goaltender on the bench after he was pulled by coach Peter Laviolette. The coach did not commit to starting him when the series resumes this weekend, though he praised his goaltender throughout the postgame news conference.
“When you lose a couple games and get pulled, you’re not happy about how things went,” Rinne said. “But you have to put those things behind and focus on the things you can control and that’s Game 3.”
That game is Saturday night in Nashville, and Rinne and the Predators are counting on a big dose of energy from a wild fan base that will be seeing the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final game at home.
“Our focus is Game 3 and going home to a crowd that’s going to be electric,” Predators’ captain Mike Fisher said. “We’re going to feed off that energy and we’re going to be ready.”
Fifty teams have taken a 2-0 lead since the final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. Of those, 90 percent went on to win the Stanley Cup, including Pittsburgh last season. Boston, in 2011, was the last team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the Final, rallying to defeat Vancouver in seven games. Pittsburgh also did it in 2009, losing both games on the road against Detroit.
“It’s obviously very disappointing right now, but it’s a series and we’re down 2-0 going home,” Rinne said. “I think we’re looking forward to playing in front of our fans.”
Rinne was 4-0 in the playoffs following a loss, but he watched the majority of the third period as backup Juuse Saros made his playoff debut. The Penguins beat Rinne four times on just 11 shots in Game 1 and scored four goals on 25 shots Wednesday for their 2-0 series lead.
Rinne is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist who entered the final as the hottest goaltender in the playoffs with a .947 save percentage. But he has never started and won a game against the Penguins, and he has looked decidedly shaky, posting a .777 save percentage, in the first two games of the biggest series of his life.
“For me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Rinne said “I’ve played a long time and this is my first time having a chance to play for the Cup. I think you have to bury these two games, move ahead and just find a way to have some success.”
It hasn’t been easy against Pittsburgh.
Rinne is now 1-7-2 lifetime against Pittsburgh – his lone win came in relief at Nashville – and he entered the series with a .880 save percentage and a 3.57 goals-against average. Those numbers ballooned after the first two games against the Penguins.
Rinne is now winless in five career starts at Pittsburgh and looking to change his luck in Nashville where the Predators are 7-1 in the playoffs.
“Pekka’s been excellent for us all year long,” Laviolette said. “There’s things we could’ve done. all three goals in the third period were odd-man rushes.”
Rinne stopped 18 of the first 19 shots faced through the first two periods, but he allowed a shaky goal in the first period to Jake Guentzel, the Game 1 hero for Pittsburgh, who squeezed a rebound between Rinne’s arm and body while he hugged the post.
Guentzel struck again 10 seconds into the third period to put Pittsburgh in front for good.
Rinne kicked a Bryan Rust rebound to the slot where Guentzel scored his 12th of the playoffs and second of the game. Pittsburgh scored soon after to make it 3-1, a goal that was credited to Scott Wilson, who got a piece of the puck before it went off the skate of Nashville forward Vernon Fiddler and between Rinne’s pads.
Evgeni Malkin extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1 just 15 seconds later, beating Rinne with a wrist shot during a two-on-one.
That was enough to end Rinne’s night, but the Predators aren’t blaming their goaltender for the series deficit.
“He’s the reason why we’re here,” Fisher said. “It’s not his fault by any means. We need to be better in front of him.”