The 34-year-old mainstay in the Predators net won his sixth game in his last eight starts on Saturday, blanking the Minnesota Wild 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena. The win was also Rinne’s third shutout of the season, and his 43rd of this career.
In those eight starts, he has allowed an average of 1.75 goals per game and had a .934 save percentage. According to Rinne, the shutout on Saturday was a continuation of a solid stretch run for him.
“The biggest thing is that I feel healthy and feel like I have energy,” Rinne said. “There have been ups and downs again this year, and it’s a long season. But yeah, I do feel like I’m playing pretty good hockey right now and playing with some confidence.”
Saturday’s matinee had a playoff-like atmosphere from the opening draw, and Rinne was up to the challenge, stopping all 31 Wild shots. If the Predators keep playing good hockey the rest of the season, they could see this Minnesota team again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Winning a game against a potential playoff opponent in a playoff-like atmosphere has given Rinne some confidence.
“I think as a team, you’ve always got to have respect to those guys,” he said. “That’s a really good hockey team, and I think we always play pretty entertaining games against them. It was a big matchup, especially if you face them in the first round. These games, they matter, and you want to leave a taste in your mouth that you can play against them and you can take them.”
Rinne’s shutout bid was nearly spoiled in the final minute of the third period. With the extra attacker on, Wild forward Mikael Granlund took a shot at a wide-open net, only to see the puck glance off of Rinne’s glove and off the post.
“Even at the end there, they had a few chances, and I got lucky there with that Granlund shot,” Rinne said. “That should have been a goal usually. This time, it was helping the other Finn.”
One reason for Rinne’s hot streak down the stretch may be how rested he is. Saturday’s game was his 59th of of the season. With just four games remaining, he is on pace to play the fewest games in a season since he played 58 games 2009-10 (with the exception of the 2013-14 season, in which he played just 24 games due to an E.coli infection in his hip).
At this time of year, having a healthy and rested goaltender is essential to playoff success. That’s why head coach Peter Laviolette planned to cut Rinne’s starts just a little bit this season.
“You never know what a plan is going to have when you go into the season, but we were hoping to knock a few games off,” Laviolette said. “He’s been a workhorse for this organization for so long, and like I said, things always change, but we were able to follow through with that.”
“I think the way Juuse played this year, he’s given us that luxury. There’s a lot of confidence in Juuse and the way he plays the game, but I think that it has set Peks up to be just in a better physical state of mind, mentally as well. Just fresher.”
Rinne also credited Saros for making it easier to start fewer games this season.
“It is true, I feel good, and this year, the schedule has been really demanding and obviously, having Juuse here, I think he’s played so well that he’s deserving of all the ice time he’s getting,” he said. “I’ve got no problem with that. It’s a good goalie partnership and relationship. The team is always the first thing, and whoever they think can deliver a win, I think he’s going to play. ”
With the win, the Predators are now tied with the St. Louis Blues in the standings with 91 points, setting up a monumental showdown tomorrow afternoon at the Scottrade Center for third place in the Central Division. If the Predators earn just a point in that game, they will clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.
The Predators know that every shift, every goal and every game matters even more as the playoffs approach.
“I’m really happy with what I’m seeing out there, and guys are playing really really hard,” Rinne said. “We talk about it before every game, that teams are going to come at more and more of a faster pace, especially at the beginnings of games. Those are important, and I think we’ve responded pretty well.”
Puck drop tomorrow between the Predators and Blues is scheduled for 3:00 PM central.