Three’s a crowd, especially between the pipes for the Nashville Predators.
Saturday afternoon goaltender Pekka Rinne was dressed in a suit and chowing down on a deli tray in the media room at the Sommet Center. If his airplane had not been delayed by weather problems, he would have been in goal for the Predators when they faced the Chicago Blackhawks. Instead, Dan Ellis, who had been told the day before he would not be playing, got the word about 3 ½ hours before game time he would be starting.
Ellis put in one of his best performances of the season, stopping 37 of 38 shots and holding on in the shootout as the Predators won 2-1. The win keeps the playoff hopes for the Predators alive.
“Chicago is a very offensively gifted team,” Ellis said. “They came hard at us. They had beaten the snot out of us this year. When they pushed us we pushed right back.
“We got the big win. It changes our whole momentum as a team.”
The addition of Rinne, who has been with the Milwaukee Admirals this season, was a blow to both Ellis and Chris Mason. Ellis and Mason have been switched in goal 12 times this season during games. Ellis and Mason have also felt the sting of criticism on several levels for their play down the stretch.
“It is motivating,” Ellis said. “It is disheartening. It is frustrating. It is all of the above. But you have no control over that. You don’t make any of those decisions.
“We have taken a lot of criticism lately. It is a team game, but all of a sudden it became an individual sport. A lot of fingers were being pointed at us. Mase and I realized we have to step things up. Neither one of us wants to have poor results.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz emphasized that the addition of Rinne, who is expected to remain with the team the rest of the season, was not done in an attempt to motivate Ellis or Mason.
“It was done to get some results,” Trotz said. “We are at a time where we needed solid goaltending. We needed solid goaltending against Chicago and we got it.
“That was huge for us. I give Dan credit because there were trying circumstances. Anytime you challenge a player you want them to respond instead of feeling sorry for themselves. Right now we can’t afford not to have everybody playing well.”
The Predators ended a six-game home losing streak with the win, played in front of the third straight sell-out crowd. They are back home Tuesday night at 7 to face the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It seemed like it was never going to happen,” said Jason Arnott, Predators center and team captain, who scored the team’s only goal in regulation. “We have played well all season long at home. We didn’t know what had been going on.
“We knew we had to get back to playing our style of game whether it was 1-1 or 0-0. We did that and came out with a win. It’s huge. We are a little more upbeat and we have more confidence. We have a little more edge and a little more juice.”
Trotz would not say if Ellis had earned the chance to be back in net or if he would give Rinne the start. The Predators have six games left to earn a playoff berth.
“You play when you get the chance to play,” said Ellis. “If Pekka gets the chance to play or Mase is playing then I will cheer them on the best that I can. The most important thing for us right now is winning.
“No one in here is quitting. It has been a tough grind for us. But we have character players all the way through this dressing room. We are going to push right until the point where we are in it or we know we are out of it.”
Whatever happens the next six games, Trotz doesn’t expect anything to be given to his team.
“Everything has been hard this year from trying to get goaltenders here to injuries to the ownership situation,” Trotz said. “But our probability is still very high.”