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PITTSBURGH – Pekka Rinne can’t win in Pittsburgh.
I mean, maybe he can. He’ll need to, if the Nashville Predators are going to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 – assuming they continue their home dominance and take Game 6 on Sunday.
But the evidence thus far is that the Penguins’ home arena is Pekka Rinne’s personal goaltending hellscape; where pucks fly past him, his defense stops playing for him and, in the last two Stanley Cup Final games he’s played at PPG Arena, he ends up with a seat on the Predators’ bench to watch Juuse Saros take his crease.
Has the veteran goalie considered that maybe he can’t, like, actually win in Pittsburgh?
“Of course, you think about … you came here with the mindset that you obviously knew what happened in the first two games,” said Rinne, who gave up three goals on nine shots before being pulled in Nashville’s 6-0 Game 5 loss on Thursday night.
“But, I mean, that’s not going to change the way I play or the way I prepare. Now the mission is to win the Game 6, come back here and play the best game of the series.”
In 508 regular-season games, Rinne has a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. In 69 playoff games, Rinne has a 2.37 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
In Pittsburgh he … doesn’t.
Here are his numbers when playing for the Predators in the Steel City:
He’s not been good against Pittsburgh overall. He was 1-2 against them at home during his career in the regular season in five games played, with an .897 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against.
Where’s his confidence right now?
“It’s good. Obviously, disappointed with the game. That was a huge game. We came here well-prepared and didn’t have it tonight. As a team, we have to have the confidence of playing at home,” he said.
Rinne’s first period was rough. Justin Schultz’s shot from the point on the power play, which Pittsburgh earned in the first 50 seconds of the game, slid through him after gliding past a sliding penalty killer.
“If you don’t pick it up, it’s too late to react after that,” said Rinne.
Bryan Rust’s goal beat him over the shoulder glove side, on a wicked backhander, but one that Rinne overplayed. Then it was Evgeni Malkin, in a 4-on-4 situation, flat-out beating him at 19:49 of the first period, effectively ending Rinne’s night.
“It’s disappointing, for sure. It’s a big game. We came here with the mission to win the game, and didn’t have the start of the game that we wanted to. But these playoffs, these Finals, you have to put this behind you as much as possible. We have a couple days here, with Sunday’s game,” he said.
The Predators and their coach defended Rinne’s performance, putting the blame on the full roster for this Game 5 debacle.
“We’ve got to be better in front of him,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “If you go back and look at the goals and the way they were scored, you give up a power play early on, the next two we need better coverage. There’s things we can do better in front of him. I don’t think that necessarily they were bad goals. One of them he was completely screened. Like I said, there’s coverage that’s missed after that. We’ll look to clean that up and be better next game.”
Captain Mike Fisher was asked if he was concerned with Rinne’s record in Pittsburgh.
“No. I’m worried about his record now at home, and it’s been outstanding,” he said. “We gotta focus on that game. We gotta be better for our goaltender, no question. You look at the shots, and they’re even, but it’s scoring chances, quality chances. That’s not our goaltender’s fault.”
It might not be, but here’s the reality of this for the Predators: They need him to be outstanding.
To find that Schultz shot. To be better positioned on that Rust shot. To make the saves he made in a brilliant Game 4 behind a Nashville defense that’s now gone two games in a row handing the Penguins odd-man rushes with the frequency of a bartender on Broadway handing out longnecks. Rinne cleaned up those messes in Game 4, and didn’t allow the Penguins to unleash their offense in a burst like they had in Games 1 and 2.
But in Game 5, Rinne gave up two goals in just over five minutes, on the road, and the Predators were staggered. “They were going. And we really didn’t get it going at any point,” he said.
The odds are good that the Predators extend this thing to a seventh game, given that they’re 9-1 on home ice and Rinne has a .949 save percentage, to go along with a 1.44 goals-against average, there in the playoffs.
But if and when they return to Pittsburgh, it’s with the baggage of three road losses and a career’s worth of horrible results in this city for their goaltender.
Rinne, for his part, remains as optimistic as ever.
“You still remind yourself that you’re in the Final,” he said. “As long as there’s life, there’s hope.”
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