In Saturday's 3-0 win over Detroit - Rinne's fourth shutout of the season - not only did the Preds keep the Red Wings' fifth-ranked power play off the board, including a two-minute 5-on-3, but Nashville also earned a rare shorthanded goal that proved critical.
Sergei Kostitsyn scored with his team down a man at 14:03 of the second period to give Nashville a 2-0 lead. It was just the third shorthanded goal of the season for the Predators.
"Sometimes it goes like that," said Rinne, who made one of his 35 saves on Henrik Zetterberg just before Kostitsyn's goal. "There's a scoring chance at the other end of the ice and then we score, so momentum-wise I think that was a really big goal."
Rinne, who was named the League's Third Star for January, snapped a personal three-game losing streak, though that had more to do with his team's offensive shortcomings than his own failings. In those games, he allowed a total of only seven goals. He now owns the No. 2 save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (2.04) in the NHL.
The shutout was Rinne's first since a Nov. 30 victory over Phoenix.
Detroit put forth a strong effort in the third period, but Rinne stopped all 17 shots he faced. When Kostitsyn scored for the second time with 2:21 left in regulation for his 14th goal of the season, it was the final nail in the coffin for Detroit, which was shut out for the second time in as many nights. The Wings, who won 7-5 at Ottawa on Wednesday, were blanked 3-0 at home by Columbus on Friday.
Nashville snapped a four-game losing streak and pulled within five points of the Central Division-leading Red Wings, though Detroit has a game in hand.
With the Western Conference being packed so tightly - eight points separate fourth-place Nashville from 14th-place Columbus entering Saturday's games - the two points were big.
"I think we're always looking ahead," Nashville defenseman Shea Weber said of the standings. "You definitely see who's behind you and they're chasing you, but you want to be chasing the teams ahead of you. It's not like you're trying to stay afloat. You're trying to chase the teams at the top."
Weber, just one week removed from finishing as the runner-up in the All-Star Weekend's hardest shot competition, made it 1-0 when he took a pass from Ryan Suter at the left point, skated in towards the right circle and unleashed a wicked slap shot over Joey McDonald's shoulder at 3:18 of the first period for his 10th goal of the season.
The game remained relatively even from there until Kostitsyn's first goal. With Shane O'Brien in the penalty box for boarding Henrik Zetterberg, Rinne sprawled to stop a hard shot from Zetterberg from the left circle. Suter scooped up the rebound and made an outlet pass to a streaking Kostitsyn. Holding off Jakub Kindl with one hand, the left-handed shooting Kostitsyn somehow managed to flip a backhander with his free arm that hit McDonald's stick and popped into the net.
The Preds, who have the League's No. 4 penalty kill, killed all five Detroit power plays, including a two-minute 5-on-3 that was created by Zetterberg, who drew two penalties on the same shift before Nashville won possession of the puck.
"Five-on-four's tough against them, let alone 5-on-3," Weber said.
Said Suter, who finished plus-1 in 25:52 and had a pair of assists, "We did a good job killing penalties, pressuring them up the ice. They really didn't have much, after they got set up."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said his team's inability to capitalize on the long 5-on-3 advantage was a difference maker
"What really set ourselves up good there with the 5-on-3," Babcock said. "You've got two full minutes and we lost every battle at the start -- the first group never really got it in the zone, and then I put out the second group, (Zetterberg's) group, and we didn't get an opportunity. Any way you look at it, that has to be automatic. It's got to be a thing that just goes in the net."
Rinne made another big save in the third period when Kindl took a feed from up high to down low and Rinne had to drop to the ice and use his left arm to smother the puck.
For Nashville, forward Steve Sullivan returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 23, a span of 18 games.
Meanwhile, center Pavel Datsyuk (broken wrist) remained out for Detroit. Datsyuk, activated off injured reserved on Jan. 27, missed his 19th straight games.
|Justin Abdelkader Interference - Goalkeeper against Pekka Rinne|
|Shane O'Brien Cross checking against Justin Abdelkader|
|Valtteri Filppula Hooking against Shea Weber|
|Sergei Kostitsyn Tripping against Henrik Zetterberg|
|Patric Hornqvist Holding against Henrik Zetterberg|
|Ruslan Salei Tripping against J-P Dumont|
|Jerred Smithson Roughing against Johan Franzen|
|Jonathan Ericsson Hooking against Alexander Sulzer|
|Cody Franson Cross checking against Valtteri Filppula|
|Colin Wilson Delay of game against Justin Abdelkader|
|Justin Abdelkader Delay of game against Colin Wilson|