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Rinne caps big day by blanking Coyotes 3-0

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nashville coach Barry Trotz called it "The Goalie Hat Trick." Defenseman Jonathon Blum called it "one of the best days you can possibly have." Even the man himself, wasn't about to label it just another day at the office.

Goalie Pekka Rinne capped off a day that included his 29th birthday and signing the richest contract extension in Nashville history by recording his 23rd career shutout, a  35-save signature effort in a 3-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. It was a perfect example of why the organization wanted to ensure he will celebrate many more birthdays between the pipes for the Predators.

"This is a day that I'll remember for the rest of my life for sure," said Rinne, who signed a seven-year, $49 million extension Thursday morning and was money all night for Nashville. "Everything that happened, I'm not going to say this is just another two points. It has a bigger meaning to me. To sign the contract, and have it done and play in a game like this is really extra special."

Blum and Matt Halischuk scored second-period goals for the Predators, who improved to 1-0-1 on the five-game road trip necessitated by the Country Music Awards at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Patric Hornqvist added an empty-net goal with 59.2 seconds left, his fifth goal in the last four games as the Predators avenged a 5-2 loss to the Coyotes on Oct. 13 in Nashville.

The Predators got it done with a familiar recipe: timely goals and solid play from their star goalie. Rinne made two big saves early on shorthanded chance by Mikkel Boedker, and the more Phoenix threw at him later, the stronger he got.

"He pulled off the goalie hat trick: He's a birthday boy, then the shutout and the $49 million. I'm not sure you can have a better day than that," Trotz said. "That's the reason we wanted to get him signed. He made some big saves at real key moments of the game and that's what he does – give us a chance to win every night."

Trotz said he didn't see anything different in Rinne's play on Thursday, but he saw a noticeable extra spring in the step of his teammates. The dressing room needed a boost after a difficult summer that included the deaths of former Predators Wade Belak, Karlis Skrastins and Josef Vasicek and whispers that Nashville top players – Rinne and defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber – might be too expensive to re-sign.

"There's been a little bit of a black cloud over us," Trotz said. "People saying we're not committed to getting those guys signed, and that's not really true. Then with Wade Belak dying and the guys who passed away over in Russia and all the injuries to our key players early, it's been like one thing after another. It's like ‘when's this gonna end a little bit; give us a break here.'

"Pek signing was like a big weight left the room today, and guys had extra energy. He's a building piece for our franchise. I see him every night, I know how good he is and he's worth every penny."

Rinne earned his shutout as well as his paycheck. The Coyotes had plenty of quality scoring chances and when they weren't hitting posts (Lauri Korpikoski) or crossbars (Patrick O'Sullivan) Rinne was making difficult saves look easy. Phoenix fell to 3-3-1 at home and has been shut out twice.

"We have to find a way to generate the power plays and get some opportunities when we get them," captain Shane Doan said. "I think we only had (two) power plays, and that's not good enough."

Playing back-to-back games for this first time this season, the Coyotes played without center Martin Hanzal (lower-body injury), which broke up a line with Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata that had contributed seven goals and 17 points during a three-game winning streak capped by a 4-1 win in Colorado on Wednesday. But scoring chances wasn't the problem in this one -- Rinne was.

"It's a different game when you go out and get a lead," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We had a couple of chances where if we can get a lead instead of chasing the game, that's something that can help your energy level. Once we got down, we didn't play with the same energy

"We had some opportunities in the third period also, but Ronne made some big saves on us."

Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera, giving red-hot starter Mike Smith a night off, made 29 saves but was victimized twice in the middle period. Blum stopped a puck at the point and threw a shot that went through traffic and through the legs of Halischuk before sneaking past LaBarbera at 8:01 to break the scoreless deadlock.

At 16:04, a Korpikoski turnover led to a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Center Craig Smith showed off his great speed before slipping a pass across the slot that Halischuk backhanded past LaBarbera. It was Halischuk's third goal of the year but first in six games.

From there it was all about getting the millionaire birthday boy his shutout.

"I took a (hooking) penalty in the final minute and that gave me a scare. I didn't want to ruin the good thing he had going there," Smith said. "I'm glad he got it. He hasn't been too high or too low, he's just playing his game and we're doing our best to help him keep the puck out of the net. He gives us a lot of comfort."
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