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Predators welcome Rinne back against Penguins

by Brian Hunter /

PENGUINS (40-16-4) at PREDATORS (26-25-10)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 5-3-2; Nashville 4-3-3

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. James Neal and Brandon Sutter each had a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins to a 4-1 win at Consol Energy Center on Nov. 15.

Big story: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is expected to make his first start since Oct. 22. Nashville gets him back from a lengthy injury ordeal at a time when it's desperate to start stringing together wins.

Team Scope:

Penguins: It's back indoors as Pittsburgh continues a five-game road trip that began with a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at Soldier Field in the finale of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.


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Following a shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the inaugural NHL Winter Classic, the Penguins have lost their ensuing two outdoor games: 3-1 to the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Winter Classic at rainy Heinz Field, and Saturday in the snow against the Blackhawks.

The Penguins saw their lead over the Boston Bruins for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference shrink to three points after the Bruins beat the New York Rangers on Sunday night. Each team has 22 games remaining.

"A lot of the first games back [after the Olympic break] weren't the prettiest games around the League. Then you step right into a game where you're outdoors in the elements," coach Dan Bylsma said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "So, yes, we'll look to regroup and … maybe get back to some normalcy, and we're going to have to do it going on the road for some tough games coming up."

Predators: A brief conditioning stint for Rinne in the American Hockey League went about as well as anyone could have hoped. He stopped 33 of 35 shots over two starts and left little doubt about his availability for Tuesday.

"I'm ready to go, absolutely," Rinne said in the Tennessean, and evidently general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz agree.

The Predators have four teams to climb over if they're to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with three games left this week all on home ice now's the time to make a move. Rinne had a 2.31 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in nine starts before an infection in his surgically-repaired hip sent him to the sidelines.

"It's a blast to be back playing and feeling good," Rinne said. "I think that's the main thing."

Who's hot: Neal has a five-game goal streak and a seven-game point streak (five goals, four assists) for the Penguins. … Predators forward Simon Moser scored his first NHL goal in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

Injury report: Pittsburgh is without goalie Tomas Vokoun (hip), defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand) and forwards Pascal Dupuis (knee), Beau Bennett (wrist) and Chris Conner (hand). … Nashville forward Nick Spaling (lower body), who has been out since Jan. 31, also returns to the lineup.

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