NASHVILLE -- The transformation of Pekka Rinne from mere mortal back into superhuman took a little more than 48 hours.
The Nashville Predators goaltender returned home after losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh to questions about whether he'd start Game 3. After an often-spectacular 23-save performance in a 4-1 win in Game 4 on Monday got the Predators even in the best-of-7 series, most of the questions about Rinne followed the theme of, "How did he did he do that?"
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On some of this saves, Rinne relied on his positioning and his reflexes. To make one on Jake Guentzel in the second period, he dove through the air like, well, Superman.
"That was incredible," Predators forward Austin Watson said. "He saved our butt a few times tonight and we knew he would. [Rinne] is incredible. In these big moments, he's come out and shined for us and he made the saves when we needed them tonight."
Thanks to Rinne and another winning goal from rookie Frederick Gaudreau, the Predators will return to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports) with the series tied 2-2 and all the momentum seemingly on their side. That appeared to be unlikely scenario after Rinne was pulled in the third period of a 4-1 loss in Game 2 last Wednesday.
Video: Pekka Rinne stole the show in Game 4
But Rinne got his confidence back with 27 saves in a 5-1 win in Game 3 on Saturday, which turned out to be bad news for the Penguins on Monday. In some ways, the Penguins played their best game of the series, generating numerous high-quality scoring chance, but only Sidney Crosby was able to solve Rinne with a breakaway goal with 4:03 left in the first period.
"He was extremely competitive tonight," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He seemed on point. He was a difference-maker."
Rinne is 9-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in 10 home starts this postseason.
In losing the first two games in Pittsburgh, Rinne allowed eight goals on 36 shots for a .778 save percentage. In Games 3 and 4, Rinne combined to stop 50 of 52 shots for a .962 save percentage.
"You always have ups and downs," Rinne said. "You try to stay even keel. … But I'm sure at the end of the day when you look back, it's a rollercoaster. It's an emotional ride. So it's no different, these finals. Obviously the first two games, we did a lot of good things. Personally [I] wasn't really happy with my game. But these two games, they've been huge for us. Personally too, it's a game of confidence being a goalie."
Rinne was at his best in the second period, stopping all eight Penguins shots. With the score tied 1-1, Rinne kicked out his left pad to rob Guentzel, who was alone in front at 2:31. Then, he made a right pad save on Chris Kunitz on a breakaway at 3:29.
Gaudreau scored on a left post wraparound 16 seconds later to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.
Although they failed to add to their lead on a power play at 6:15, Rinne made sure that didn't hurt them with a remarkable sequence of three saves in four seconds.
It began with Crosby again racing in against Rinne on a breakaway at 8:52. As he did when he scored on his first period breakaway, Crosby went to his backhand, but Rinne was there this time to make a left pad save.
Video: Darren Pang on Crosby and Rinne's performances
Then, he made another left pad save on another Crosby backhand on the rebound. Rinne lost his stick during the ensuing scramble and Penguins forward Bryan Rust was able to spin around and throw the puck in front off the stick of diving Predators defenseman Roman Josi.
Just when it appeared Guentzel was going to chip the puck into the empty net, Rinne dove to his right to initially stop the puck with the blocker on his right hand before swiping it away with his left arm.
Rinne called it "a soccer goalie save."
"I was able to keep the puck out of the net," he said. "At the moment, obviously that was a big play."
That was an understatement.
"They had some pretty good looks and he was unbelievable," Josi said. "He was our best player again, like he's been all playoffs."
After the puck went out of play at 9:04, the Superman theme blared from the Bridgestone Arena sound system as a salute to Rinne and the crowd chanted "Pekk-a! Pekk-a!"
At that moment, it seemed almost silly that anyone had questioned Rinne's ability to rebound after Game 2.
"I don't know what he needed to prove to anybody," Watson said. "But he made some unbelievable saves like he's done the last however many years, and kudos to him for battling and keeping pucks out of the net for us at times where it looked like they might get one."
Video: Clutch Performance: Rinne remarkable in Game 4 win