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Pekka Rinne Key To Preds’ Game 1 Robbery

The big guy in net was huge last night. He had to be.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s not sugarcoat this: the Predators went into the United Center last night and absolutely stole Game 1.

Did they play great defense? For the most part. Did they do their best to not allow Chicago many easy looks? Yes. Did they do a good job cleaning up the loose pucks when needed? Yes.

But I don’t think anyone thinks the Preds can win this series if they play the rest of the games like that. You can’t spend 40 minutes in your own zone against Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Artemi Panarin and expect a shutout.

With that being said, the star of the night (or at least one of them) was Pekka Rinne. With 29 saves, Rinne was as solid as he has ever been in the postseason.

Haha, atta boy Pete.

His second career shutout in the postseason, Rinne was big in a lot of ways. One, he never seemed to lose his composure in net. Even when things seemed to be helter skelter in front of him (like they were at times in the 3rd period), he looked very calm. He was going down at the right times, moving laterally better than usual, and of course his glove was on point. He was tracking the puck exceptionally well, such as in this save against Artem Anisimov in the 2nd period.

After some slick moves by Panarin, Anisimov comes out of nowhere to pounce on the puck and send it low glove side. Rinne was right there with the leg pad since it was too low to catch. It was a clean save, even if it created a bit of a dangerous rebound.

The Blackhawks excel at quick changes of direction on their shots—quick passing, deceptive looks, skilled puck movement—so to see this puck all the way was impressive. Rinne made a lot of saves like this.

As Laviolette pointed out in the post-game about Rinne, "Especially for not getting the work and the quality chances in the first period, the second period he was outstanding, and some big saves in the third period as well.”

Because the Predators were in Super Playoff Turtle mode for the majority of this game, 23 of Rinne’s 29 saves had to come in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Most of these were high quality stops on some of the game’s best shooters.

Courtesy of HockeyViz

It’s easy to look at that chart and think that the Preds didn’t play well defensively. That many high danger attempts is alarming. But the Hawks completely owned possession in this game. They had 57 shot attempts at even strength, compared to the Preds’ 33. That’s a 63% shot attempt share.

So it’s no wonder there are a lot of high danger chances. The Hawks had the puck almost the entire 2nd and 3rd periods. Eventually that puck is going to make its way to the middle of the ice and end up in a shot attempt.

The Preds played great defense in front of Rinne, blocking shot after shot, clearing the puck when it was free, and getting the puck out of the zone. They also did a great job of not allowing easy zone entries. The one thing the Preds skaters did not do well was break out of the zone and turn defense into offense—something they’ve been rather good at all year—but somehow it didn’t matter. One Viktor Arvidsson goal eight minutes into the game was all it took.

Yes. It is.

It’s hard to say, but I think we can call this the best postseason game of Rinne’s career. His first shutout was back in 2012, when he shutout the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Shutting out the Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena is not even close to the same thing as shutting out the Blackhawks in the United Center.

But Rinne also had a great game in Detroit that same year. He had 40 saves in Game 4 of the Red Wings series, giving the Preds a 3-1 series lead and allowing them to close out the series the very next game. That was a huge win at the time.

There’s also last year’s Game 7 win in Anaheim. Rinne had 36 saves in that game, but I seem to remember the Ducks hitting a number of posts in that one.

I think last night was a bigger win, especially given his recent decline, and the fact that the Preds had absolutely nothing going offensively, but I suppose you could make the case for either last night’s win or the 2012 win in Detroit as being the best postseason performances of his career.

Either way, like Rinne said, this series is on.