The weather-depleted crowd of 8,215 at Bridgestone Arena were rewarded for their bravery of the elements as they got to see the latest edition of The Pekka Rinne Show live and in person as the Nashville Predators blew out the San Jose Sharks, 5-1.
“It seems like every night he does something that you just can’t believe,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “Having a front row seat to it every night is pretty special.”
Rinne finished with an incredible 42 saves including four in one sequence on the penalty kill that was named “top play” on NHL Tonight.
“I tried to get back as quick as I could,” Jones said, who was on the ice during the kill. “It was a quick little play in front but he’s been nothing but fantastic for us the entire year.”
“There were times when he really just stood on his head,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “There was a flurry on the powerplay there for San Jose where he made four unbelievable stops in a row and then even one after the whistle for good measure. He was great.”
The 6’4” Finn improved to a league-leading 34-7-2 but things didn’t start off well for him.
Matt Irwin got the Sharks on the board early when he broke in all alone thanks to a beautiful breakout by the Sharks. Irwin received the puck over the blueline, rushed in and wired a laser past Rinne to open the scoring.
“It was the start we wanted, for sure,” Irwin said. “They played hard the first ten minutes and for the most part I thought we played pretty well in that first period.”
Shea Weber would answer moments later with one of his patented blasts from the point, tying the game.
Just two and half minutes later, Mike Ribeiro would make an all-world pass to keep the puck onside. Despite drawing the attention of three Sharks defenders along the wall – and with no immediate help inside the attacking zone due to a line change – Riberio hooked a pass parallel to the blue line right to a breaking Mattias Ekholm. Ekholm took a routine shot knowing Craig Smith was headed toward the net and the former Wisconsin Badger netted his 16th of the season by batting the rebound out of mid-air to give the Preds a 2-1 lead headed into the locker room.
The Predators would pick right back up where they left off when Smith notched his second of the night less than a minute into the middle frame. Colin Wilson, standing in front of the crease, tried to between-his-legs a shot on goal and Smith picked up the rebound to extend the lead.
Paul Gaustad would bag his first goal since October 11 just 50 seconds later and James Neal potted his 20th to round out the scoring.
Nashville will now head out on the road for three games in four nights starting with the New York Islanders on Thursday. Laviolette said the plan is to have newly acquired (or re-acquired, as it were) players Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli meet up with the team on Long Island.
Puck drops at 6:00pm Central.
MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 6:59 remaining in regulation):
1. Craig Smith (NSH)
2. Mike Ribeiro (NSH)
3. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
2. Craig Smith (NSH)
3. Mike Ribeiro (NSH)
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // TheGameNashville.com