There are those who point to the undeniably mediocre numbers for him in the Stanley Cup Final: a .788 save percentage at even-strength (7 goals on 33 shots) and a .777 save percentage overall in two losses, getting pulled from Game 2, his second straight loss. And they further point to his career numbers vs. Pittsburgh: 1-7-2 in his career against the Penguins, with a .865 save percentage. He’s never won a game he’s started against them.
They point to these things and they wonder if Rinne can actually turn things around as the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 3 in Nashville.
These people are not found in the Predators’ dressing room.
On the other side of that gap are Rinne’s teammates, who support him without wavering for even a moment.
“He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league,” said P.K. Subban. “He’s the last of our worries, that’s for sure. When the occasion comes, and he’s had to step up, he’s always there. There’s no question he’ll be there.”
Rinne appreciates the support.
“They’ve been great,” he said of his teammates, “when all the [media] questions are like ‘somebody died.’”
Rinne isn’t dead, but he’s not officially in for Game 3 either, as coach Peter Laviolette refuses to disclose his lineup before playoff games. He worked the “starter’s net” at practice, and the Predators spoke with the assumption that he’d be back in against the Penguins. At this point, it would be an absolute stunner if rookie backup Juuse Saros got the nod.
Which means in what’s likely the make-or-break game of the series for the Predators, they’ll turn to the guy who led them to the Western Conference championship, and ask him to lead to lead them again.
“You do your best to put it behind you. Of course you think about things. You go through games, and different situations, and try to be better for the next one,” he said.
The Penguins have used their quick-strike offense to win the first two games of the series, bunching their goals together in four-minute stretches. When they’ve been able to generate a forecheck, it’s been because they’ve not allowed Rinne to handle the puck, as he does so well.
“They have smart players. They try to keep the puck away from me,” he said.
They’re also the best offensive team Rinne has faced in the playoffs, and have hung more goals on him (8) than any team has in consecutive games in the playoffs this season.
Subban said that’s not just on Rinne. “No one on our team should feel happy about our game. We shouldn’t be satisfied. Everyone can be better. I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that can say they’ve played a full 60 minutes,” he said.
All Rinne can do is believe in himself as much as his teammates apparently still believe in him.
“The stakes are high. It’s the Finals. But I still feel confident out there,” he said. “You should always have that desperation, not matter the situation.”
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