NASHVILLE -- Through all of the drama surrounding Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne in the days leading up to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, his teammates never wavered in their support of him.
Apparently, coach Peter Laviolette never did either.
The only one lacking confidence in Rinne might have been Rinne himself. He found it, though, after allowing a goal 2:36 into the game, helping the Predators get back in the series with 27 saves in a 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bridgestone Arena.
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"He was the same Pekka everyone's been talking about for a long time now," Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said.
With Rinne looking more like himself, the Predators have a chance to even the best-of-7 series with another win in Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). He is 8-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in nine starts at home in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But Rinne had struggled in losing the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh, allowing eight goals on 36 shots. After Laviolette pulled Rinne in the third period of a 4-1 loss in Game 2 on Wednesday, the questions immediately began about whether Laviolette would go back to Rinne for Game 3.
Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Rinne paddles away Sheary's redirect
That Laviolette declined to name his starter publicly fueled speculation about whether he might turn to rookie backup Juuse Saros on Saturday. But Laviolette said after Game 3 that "there was no decision" to make about Rinne.
"I said it after Game 2. I said he's been the backbone for our team," Laviolette said. "He's been excellent. I said it [Friday]."
Rinne rewarded Laviolette's faith in him by playing his best game of the Final. Being at home seemed to help.
With the arena already nearly full, the Predators fans began chanting Rinne's name early in warmups, showing they too still had faith in him.
"That was unbelievable," Rinne said. "Collectively, we came to the locker room, and everybody was kind of telling each other that we've never seen anything like that. It was pretty cool."
The turning point for Rinne came in the second period.
He had gotten off to another shaky start, allowing Jake Guentzel to score on the rebound of Pittsburgh's first shot on goal. Then, he barely reacted in time to steer aside a bouncing shot from defenseman Ron Hainsey from center ice 7:22 into the first.
After surviving that near disaster, Rinne made it through the rest of the period unscathed. It helped that the Predators limited the Penguins to six shots on goal in the first period.
"These first couple games, [the] beginning of the game, it's been a battle," Rinne said. "I think at those moments, you just mentally try to erase your mind, just focus on the next save, remind yourself that you're still in the Final. Life is pretty good."
Life got better in the second period when the Predators were rewarded for their persistence and took a 2-1 lead on goals 42 seconds apart from Roman Josi (power play at 5:51) and Frederick Gaudreau (6:33).
Rinne's pivotal moment came 39 seconds after Gaudreau's goal.
He made a right-pad save on Kessel's initial shot from the right faceoff circle, but left a big rebound in the slot with Chris Kunitz closing in. It was a similar play to the one that led to Guentzel's winning goal 10 seconds into the third period of Game 2 with the Penguins intentionally shooting for Rinne's far pad and looking for a rebound.
Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Rinne shuts the door on Kessel, Kunitz
After Rinne wasn't able to get over to make the save on Guentzel in Game 2, he made it across in time to stop Kunitz's rebound shot on Saturday to keep the Predators ahead 2-1. That save seemed to give Rinne some confidence.
He followed up with a good glove save on Patric Hornqvist's backhand on the left side at 9:37 and another glove save on Carl Hagelin with 45.9 seconds left in the period.
"I think the second period helped me," Rinne said. "I was able to see the puck pretty good, make a couple big saves."
James Neal scored with 22.6 seconds remaining in the second to make it 3-1, and Craig Smith made it 4-1 with his breakaway goal 4:54 into the third.
Rinne's confidence appeared to grow with the Predators lead. He reached back with his stick paddle to stop Conor Sheary's shot from the left side 6:38 into the third, and then kicked out his left pad to stop Trevor Daley's shot off a rebound from the top of the crease at 10:40.
"His game tonight was rock solid," Laviolette said. "He saw the puck well. He moved well. He got out and stopped pucks. He set up pucks for our defensemen. He made timely saves."