When the Nashville Predators take the ice on Monday night in Buffalo, New York, goaltender Pekka Rinne will be trying to accomplish a milestone.
Yes, another one.
In November, Rinne blanked the St. Louis Blues to earn his 45th career shutout, surpassing Miikka Kiprusoff for most by a Finnish-born goaltender. In February, the Preds blitzed the San Jose Sharks, 7-1, to see him become just the 34th netminder to win 300 games in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League. Whether it comes tonight or sometime in the near future, with his next win, Rinne will become the winningest Finnish-born goalie ever.
While the Kempele, Finland native still trails Kiprusoff in regular season wins by 11, when it comes to regular season (308) and playoff wins (36) combined, he’s currently tied with the Flames great at 344.
“I think it’s a really big thing for him,” Juuse Saros said. “Especially since he was a little bit of a late bloomer. He’s earned everything. I think he’ll be really proud of that number.”
Saros, Nashville’s back-up, has a unique perspective. He and Rinne share a home country, an NHL team that drafted and developed them and, until recently, were even roommates. Of course, well before he lived in Rinne’s house, Saros watched him from across the Atlantic.
“Pekka and Tuukka Rask were the two biggest names for me growing up,” he said. “Kiprusoff was another one. He took Calgary to the Final but, after that, it was Pekka and Tuukka.”
When Kiprusoff made his Stanley Cup appearance, Saros was just nine years old so it makes sense that Rinne and Rask, the Boston Bruins starter, would be more influential.
“I liked the style of their play,” Saros said about modeling his game after those two. “I’d watch clips on YouTube and follow them that way.”
Fast forward about a decade and now he gets to learn, watch and study one of his idols on a daily basis.
“It’s been great being his goalie partner for these last two years,” Saros said. “He’s one of the best guys to look up to.”
Other than surpassing Kiprusoff’s 319 regular season wins (which should happen early next season), there’s only one thing left for Rinne to do in order to become the undisputed best Fininsh netminder ever.
While six Finnish goalies have represented their native country in the Final, only one has ever won the Cup as the starter. In 2010, when the Chicago Blackhawks won their first championship in 48 years, Antti Niemi backstopped them to the celebration.
The other five are Rinne as the starter and Saros seeing some relief action in 2017 (lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games), Rask in 2011 (won the Cup as Tim Thomas’ back-up but didn’t play a single minute) and in 2013 (lost to Chicago in six), Jussi Markanen in 2006 (lost to Peter Laviolette’s Carolina Hurricanes in seven) and Kiprusoff in 2004 (lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven).
If Rinne were to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this season, he’ll be the all-time winningest goalie from his native country as well as just the second Finnish goalie to lead his team to hockey’s ultimate prize. With that resume, he would have to be considered the best masked man Finland’s ever produced.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Saros said of overtaking Kiprusoff in wins.
And it’s just the latest milestone Rinne has within reach.
GRAPHIC: Chas Kelly