After clinching the final playoff spot in the Central Division with a statement win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, the Nashville Predators took the ice for the final meeting between the teams, and the final regular season game for the Preds.
The lineup in gold looked a little different than Saturday night—and recent weeks—as Coach John Hynes chose to sit several key players and allow the players who haven’t had as much ice time a chance to showcase their skills headed into the first round of the playoffs. The players Hynes plugged into the line up decided to make the most of the opportunity.
This was a game that would also be about heart: the heart of this team, and the heart of Smashville, for the much-beloved Rinne. Here is how it played out.
The Predators started the game with an offensive push, but the biggest cheer in the first minute and a half was for Pekka Rinne after a vintage Rinne save. Unfortunately, the mood was broken when Tyler Lewington was called for cross-checking at 1:58 to put the Hurricanes on the power play.
The threatening Canes power play set up quickly, peppering Rinne with several shots before the puck was finally cleared. A brilliant poke check by Tanner Jeannot put the puck on Rocco Grimaldi’s stick and Grimaldi sprinted down the ice to score shorthanded for the first goal of the game. Grimaldi decided to make the most of his ice time after being a healthy scratch since April 19.
The Predators killed the rest of the penalty and went back to work immediately. After tenacious play on the boards, Matt Duchene sent the puck around the back of the goal where it ended up with Ryan Johansen. Johansen pulled one of his magic passes to Yakov Trenin, who slipped the puck back to a crossing Duchene, who buried it in the back of the goal at 4:29. The Predators went up quickly 2-0, and two Predators who struggled to get ice time showed their intention to earn their time back.
At 5:59 Max McCormick earned himself a time out in the sin bin for cross-checking. A humming Predators team quickly set up the power play with the first unit, and although they didn’t score it was an offensive possession that yielded several good looks. The second unit briefly set up, but didn’t have as many looks, and McCormick returned to the ice with no harm done to the struggling Canes.
Just a two and a half minutes later, Yakov Trenin headed to the invisible snack bar in the penalty box after an inadvertent high stick. The Predators had another chance to practice their penalty kill. Carolina was able to establish possession, but the Predators limited chances and survived the two minutes without Trenin.
Pekka Rinne earned another appreciative roar from the crowd as he quickly closed off a gaping side of the net. Tyler Lewington and Max McCormick (both of whom had already been to the box once in the period and should have known there were no snacks there) threw caution—and their gloves—to the wind after their physical play against each other escalated. Each received two minutes for fighting at 13:56.
Tolvanen bounced a shot off the post, Forsberg threw a fast pass to a crashing Jérémy Davies, and Pitlick and Grimaldi had a two on one chance, but the final offensive flurry of the period by the Predators didn’t net another goal and the period ended 2-0.
The second period started with a struggle for possession in the neutral zone, but settled into a hectic back and forth for the first five minutes of the period. With a delayed penalty against the Hurricanes, Rinne hit the bench and tagged in a hungry Matt Duchene. The tenacious Herd Line kept possession in the offensive zone and Duchene scooped up a quick rebound and sent it into the goal for his second score of the game at 4:19.
Pekka Rinne earned his second “Pekka! Pekka!” chant from the crowd after three rapid point-blank saves. The first half of the period leaned the Predators way with strong physical play against the boards and offensive pressure.
Physical play by (new dad—congratulations!) Matthieu Olivier resulted in an elbow to Joakim Ryan and a two minute penalty for Olivier. The Canes started off the power play with a quick chance. The pressure of the Canes power play challenged Rinne, who was up to the task and continued to make strong saves. Halfway through Olivier’s penalty Sebastian Aho was called for a slash and the teams played four on four. Nino Neiderreider got a shot on net immediately, but Rinne smothered the puck. With time ticking away on the four on four, Ryan Johansen received a smart pass from Filip Forsberg and sent the puck past Petr Mrázek to put the Predators up 4-0.
Immediately after the goal, Olivier was on the receiving end of a high stick from Jordan Martinook, putting the Preds a man up at 12:12. The Predators pressured and harassed Mrázek, but didn’t add a power play score.
While Mrázek gave up several rebounds, Pekka Rinne continued to dazzle with yet another big save revving up an already excited crowd at Bridgestone Arena. As the Predators and the crowd ramped up, the Hurricanes’ frustration built as well. At 16:45 Vincent Trocheck carelessly elbowed David Farrance in the head, resulting in another Predators power play. Despite strong offensive pressure from both power play units, the Preds again couldn’t capitalize on the man advantage.
The period ended with two Rinne saves on hard Sebastian Aho shots, and a kerfuffle after the buzzer as Carolina frustration and Nashville energy collided. The Predators headed to the locker room with a 4-0 lead.
After the post-buzzer scrum, the third period began with Matt Benning and Erik Gudbranson in the box for Nashville and Morgan Geekie and Nino Neiderreider for Carolina, putting the Canes on the power play to start the period. Not wanting to give up any momentum, Tanner Jeannot battled and hustled for the puck and buried the Preds’ second shorthanded goal of the game at :57. The Predators killed off the penalty with the 5-0 lead.
The Predators continued the physicality, offensive pressure, and solid goaltending by Rinne. An incredible save on a high-danger chance by the Canes set the crowd roaring for Rinne as the period neared the halfway point. The roar continued for Rinne through the TV timeout standing ovation. Pekka acknowledged the crowd with two quick taps to his chest and a wave.
Back-and-forth play and short tempers punctuated the play through the middle of the period.
With five minutes remaining, it was evident that the Hurricanes weren’t going to be able to find an answer for the Predators’ constant barrage. The Predators clearly committed to keeping the puck away from Pekka Rinne’s end of the ice. The crowd chanted “Pekka Rinne! Pekka Rinne!”
As the buzzer sounded, Rinne was surrounded by his teammates and the roar of the crowd.
No one left the arena as Pekka skated around the rink to the cheers of Nashville fans—a most deserved victory lap.
Three Stars of the Game
- Pekka Rinne — There is no one more beloved in Smashville that Pekka Rinne. If this in fact was his last game in Bridgestone Arena, he received the sendoff he has earned on and off the ice.
- Matt Duchene — After a struggle of a season, Duchene made a statement with his two goals tonight. Here’s hoping he can carry this scoring momentum into the playoffs.
- Ryan Johansen — Johansen had a goal in the second period and an assist. If Johansen plays this well in the first round, the Predators’ chances jump dramatically.
A song that seems fitting for tonight. We love you, Pekka.