Pekka Rinne has said numerous times throughout the years that he prefers games in which he faces plenty of shots over those when his workload is minimal.
His impression of the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday was somewhat predictable, therefore.
“It was a party,” Rinne said with a wide smile after he made a season-high 42 saves. “It’s always fun. It keeps you in the game and you kind of get that flow going. … It gets easier.
“… You just have to be ready each night. It doesn’t matter what kind of game.”
It was clear from the start what type of game the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena was going to see. The teams came in separated by a point in the Central Division and Western Conference standings (St. Louis was one up on Nashville) and wasted no time getting to work.
The Blues registered 11 of the first 14 shots — all within the first nine minutes, but the Predators scored first on Martin Erat’s power play goal at 6:59. Nashville dominated the second half of the period and reached the first intermission with a 16-14 edge in shots and — more importantly — a 2-0 edge in goals.
When all was said and done the teams combined for 80 shots — 43 for St. Louis and 37 for Nashville — one short of the most in any Predators’ game this season. Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who shut out the Los Angeles Kings a night earlier, gave up nothing after Mike Fisher made it 2-0 with 7:30 to play in the opening period.
“You’re not going to beat Nashville in Nashville on Saturday night,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This is like the Coliseum in Rome, coming into this place on a Saturday night. You’re going to have to play a lot harder and grittier than [we did] if you expect to win.
“… We had too many passengers in the second [period].”
By the end of the second period, the Predators had 31 shots, which exceeded their average per game (27.5) but had not added to their lead. Halak turned aside all 17 (one short of Nashville’s season-high) he faced during the middle 20 minutes.
“I thought we had a great second period,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Halak kept them in the game. We could have run away with that in the second period.”
The Blues roared back with 20 third-period shots and their only goal. Chris Porter scored unassisted and cut Nashville’s lead in half after he stole the puck from Roman Josi and beat Rinne with a quick shot 4:01 into the final period.
“Obviously, the third period got away from us a little bit,” Trotz said. “I thought we were fine until they scored the goal, then all hell broke loose and it became a pretty entertaining game.”
No one had more fun than Rinne, particularly when he stopped back-to-back shots by defenseman Kris Russell five seconds apart. The first left him on the seat of his pants in the crease, but he still managed to get his legs under him, dive across to his left and — with his left arm — stopped Russell’s second attempt with 8:37 to play.
“I saw it go across and it’s one of those where you just throw your body in there and hope it hits you,” Rinne said. “This time it hit me.”
He stopped five more after that and his 30th win of the season — his 11th straight — was secured only when Sergei Kostitsyn scored into an empty net with 22.1 seconds remaining. In so doing, he became the first Nashville goalie ever to win 30 or more three times.
The victory moved the Predators past the Blues and into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
“There’s not too many goaltenders in this league who would make that save [against Russell],” Trotz said. “That’s why I keep saying [Rinne] is the best one. He proved it [Saturday] night.”
And he enjoyed every moment of it.