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Stanley Cup Final

Predators expect Rinne to bounce back after rough Game 1

Coach Peter Laviolette says goalie 'will be backbone of this team' in Game 2 against Penguins

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Imagine being Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne and standing in the crease without facing a shot for 37 minutes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

Rinne must have already been shaking his head after the previous shot he faced deflected into the net off teammate Mattias Ekholm to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead way back in the first period. But somehow the Predators battled back from that to tie the game, dominating play for stretches without yielding a single shot in the process.


[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Coach's analysis: Stanley Cup Final Game 1]


Then suddenly, Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel comes streaking in on the right wing and finally gets a shot on goal from the circle that sails in over Rinne's glove for the winning goal with 3:17 remaining. That's the kind of game it was for Rinne and the Predators, who walked out of PPG Paints Arena after the 5-3 loss scratching their heads in disbelief.

"It's just one of those nights, I guess," Rinne said. "But it's disappointing it happens in a Final."

Rinne faced 11 shots, and four of them went in. Nick Bonino scored an empty-net goal for Pittsburgh with 1:02 left.

Rinne's .636 save percentage ranks as the worst in a full Stanley Cup Playoff game since 1967.

"When it's a night when you're facing a lot of shots, it is different," Rinne said. "But at the end of the day, my job is make the save, and at the end of the game, I'm disappointed I couldn't help my team."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Guentzel snipes late go-ahead goal

Trailing in a series for the first time in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Predators must rebound in Game 2 here on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). If they are looking for reasons why they can do it, they need look no further than the way they were able to bounce back after falling behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 1.

The Predators started well and appeared to take the lead on a goal from defenseman P.K. Subban 7:13 into the game. But the goal was disallowed after Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged and video review showed left wing Filip Forsberg was offside on the play.

Things unraveled quickly for the Predators in the second half of the period. Penalties on Calle Jarnkrok for interference on Patric Hornqvist and James Neal for cross-checking Trevor Daley with 6:10 left gave the Penguins a 5-on-3 for two minutes.

The Penguins capitalized when Evgeni Malkin's slap shot from above the right faceoff circle went in off the bottom of Rinne's glove for a power-play goal with 4:28. 

Conor Sheary made it 2-0 with 3:23 left. Predators defenseman Yannick Weber was unable to clear the puck, which was kept in at the left point by Brian Dumoulin, and eventually Chris Kunitz set up Sheary for a one-timer from below the right circle with a half-empty net in front of him.

There wasn't much Rinne could have done on that one or the goal credited to Bonino with 16.1 seconds left that made it 3-0. Bonino's one-handed backhand from the right circle went off Rinne's stick and then bounced in off Ekholm's right knee.

"I thought the first 10 minutes we played solid. We played really good," Predators captain Mike Fisher said. "Then they get a power-play goal and before you know, it was 3-0."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Rinne gobbles up Crosby's wrister

The Predators regrouped during the first intermission and got back in the game on Ryan Ellis' power-play goal 8:21 into the second. They outshot the Penguins 9-0 in the second period, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the first time a team was held without a shot on goal in a period in a Stanley Cup Final since the NHL started tracking shots in 1957-58.

The Predators pulled within 3-2 with a power-play goal from Colton Sissons 10:06 into the third period. Then, five seconds after killing off a Penguins power play -- again without allowing a shot on goal -- they tied it with a goal from rookie Frederick Gaudreau with 6:31 remaining.

All the momentum appeared to be on the Predators' side until the Penguins finally got their next shot on Rinne -- and it went in.

"From the way we started and the way we continued on after that, I thought our guys played great," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought we played a good game. We hate the score, we hate the result, but we'll move forward."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Gaudreau ties game with first NHL goal

The Predators have no choice, and they have no doubt that Rinne will be better in Game 2. With a 12-4 record, 1.70 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and two shutouts in the first three rounds, he's one of the players most responsible for them getting this far.

"We have no question about [Rinne] in net and what he's capable of, and he'll be the backbone of this team," Laviolette said.

The Predators will have to be better as a team as well. 

Rinne can't wait for the chance to do his part.

"That's the best part in the playoffs," he said. "You always get another opportunity, and that's going to happen on Wednesday, so I'm looking forward to that."

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