SAN JOSE – Pekka Rinne remembers the sequence on Feb. 17, when his team was protecting a 4-1 lead in the second period but was under attack on a Sharks power play.
The goaltender made a number spectacular saves with his team on the penalty kill, denying the Sharks on point-blank chance after point-blank chance. He stopped Logan Couture with a quick left pad, and then denied Joe Pavelski on the rebound, diving across the crease. Moments later, he managed to get a piece of his glove on another Pavelski try from the slot despite being on his rear end, and later made one more beauty on a Patrick Marleau redirection.
It was, quite simply, as good as it gets in terms of NHL goaltending. Nashville won, 5-1.
After Thursday’s morning skate, Rinne (36-13-3, 2.11 GAA, .927 SP) was asked if he ever looks back on clips like that and impresses even himself.
“No, not really. I’ve seen those a few times, and that clip after the game, but other than that, you just always work hard in practice,” he said, modestly. “Once in awhile you make some saves that I’m sure look fancy, but also you need to be a little bit lucky to be good.
"That’s just one of those things that you just battle hard, and sometimes the puck hits you even when you don’t really see it. You just use your instincts and try to find it and try to make your best effort to make the save.”
Rinne will face countryman Antti Niemi in net on Thursday. Niemi shut out Nashville on Dec. 13 at SAP Center, 2-0, while Rinne surrendered one goal on 33 shots before Joe Thornton’s late empty-netter put it away.
Just like Niemi, Rinne gets a kick out of facing a countryman.
“For a goalie, you’re kind of on the island a little bit and yourself and getting ready for the game, but for sure before the game you check who you’re playing against,” he said. “It’s always fun to play against another Finn. Antti is such a good goalie, and it’s a fun team and fun goalie to play against.”
Although the Sharks lost that most recent meeting thanks in part to Rinne's heroics, that game was a little closer than the score would indicate. Alex Stalock struggled that night, allowing five Predators goals.
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette would like to see his team be a little tighter in the defensive zone this time around.
“I liked what we did offensively, we generated a lot of chances, but we probably gave up more than we would like in a 5-1 win, and relied on our goaltender too much,” Laviolette said.
“But, I think San Jose does that. They’ve got high-end talent in the offensive zone, they do a lot of things that are creative, they’re – I don’t want to say high risk – but high creativity. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing.”