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Rinne's Redemption

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

PITTSBURGH - Redemption doesn't come from one save.

One save, no matter how majestic or eye-popping, does not define a goaltender's legacy.

But know this; if the Stanley Cup is rolling down Broadway in Nashville (in what would surely be the most raucous Stanley Cup parade in memory) in a couple of weeks, we will remember Pekka Rinne, having just denied Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby on a clear break, launching his 6-foot-7 frame from left to right across the Nashville Predator crease in the middle of Game 4 to deny a sure goal by Jake Guentzel.

Had the puck crossed the goal line as it was seemingly destined to, the game would have been knotted at 2-2, and who knows?

But Rinne did make that stop and the Predators went on to humble the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-1 to even this Final series at two wins apiece, setting up a delectable best-of-three, winner-gets-immortality set piece with Game 5 set for Pittsburgh Thursday night.

"At the moment, obviously, that was a big play," the 34-year-old Rinne told reporters after.

This is a series that has captured the imagination of the hockey world for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the abandon with which Predators fans have embraced this moment, the first-ever trip to the Final for the Predators.

We were in Nashville for the team's first-ever playoff game in 2004, a kind of wide-eyed, holy cow, we're really in the playoffs moment that began and ended all too quickly against arch-nemesis Detroit.

We were there a few years later when it looked like the team might be sold and moved to Hamilton.

And we have spent time with Rinne, as early as the eve of the playoffs, talking about what this kind of run would mean to the players in the room and the fans with whom they have formed a kind of symbiotic relationship.

"To be honest with you, I think about it a lot," Rinne told us shortly before the Predators began an unthinkable sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.

He imagined the Cup rolling down Broadway, a street that didn't know much about the sport when Rinne arrived in 2008-09.

Which is fair, since Rinne didn't know much about North America when he arrived a couple of years earlier and suited up with the Predators' American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee.

We often talk about an NHL career as a process or a journey and Rinne's has always resonated with us. We've made Ray Shero, now the GM in New Jersey, but once upon a time the assistant GM of the Nashville Predators, tell us the Rinne story more than once as a child might hear a favorite fairytale.

How Shero went to Oulu, somewhere south of the North Pole to see Rinne at the behest of scout Janne Kekalainen, whose brother Jarmo is now the GM in Columbus.

In the summer, the sun never sets in Oulu, but the winters are long and brutal.

The rink was still closed when Shero arrived and he feared he might freeze to death before he actually saw the ice.

Inside he bought a hat to keep warm.

He was told to come early since Rinne didn't play much given the team's starting netminder was Niklas Backstrom and watched Rinne take some practice shots. The Preds took him with the 258th overall pick in 2004 which wasn't much of a gamble given they don't even draft that many players anymore.

Hope Shero expensed the hat.

Former Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley, now the team's player development coordinator, was in Milwaukee when Rinne arrived from northern Finland.

"He was adjusting to life here and I was adjusting to life in the American League," Peverley said recently.

In their second year with the Admirals the two moved in together forging a bond that exists to this day.

"He's a great person and a fierce competitor," Peverley said.

When Peverley got married, Rinne flew from Finland to attend.

When Peverley collapsed due to a heart ailment during a game in 2014, it hit Rinne especially hard.

The two still stay in touch and there is an obvious affection and wish on Peverley's behalf for his friend's success despite toiling for different Central Division foes.

"A lot of people forget he played three years in the American League," Peverley said. "It for sure helped him. He was a dominant force down there every single night he was in the net."

There have been tremendous highs for Rinne, who was three times nominated for the Vezina Trophy. But also moments of uncertainty as he has struggled to replicate regular season successes in the playoffs.

As recently as last week, it appeared the only thing standing between the Predators and a first Stanley Cup win might be Rinne himself.

He allowed four goals on 11 shots in a 4-3 loss in Game 1 and was chased in Game 2 of the Final after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

A gentle soul, Rinne responded with two defiant performances in Nashville to even the series, stopping all but two of the last 52 shots on goal including that memorable cross-crease dive on Monday night.

Rinne said he's not interested in looking in the past just yet. Too much work yet to do.

"But, these two games, they've been huge for us," he said after Monday's win. "Personally, too, I mean it's a game of confidence being a goalie."

Listen, no goaltender runs the table with sparkling performances for two straight months.

"You're going to have some games that don't go your way," said veteran NHLer Brian Boucher, now a national analyst.

Boucher was impressed with Rinne's focus and confidence the past two games.

If he can keep it up for a couple of more games it's likely the perception of Rinne, indeed his legacy, will change.

"A lot of people think Pekka Rinne is a quality number one goaltender," Boucher said. "I don't know if they'd put him in the elite category with the Carey Prices or the Henrik Lundqvists. I don't know if he's held in that regard."

But if he can top this spring off with a Cup win, well, that puts him in another category, Boucher said.

For a long time in Nashville, Rinne existed at least partially in the large shadow cast by longtime captain and close friend Shea Weber.

When Weber was dealt to Montreal almost a year ago for P.K. Subban, there was a period of transition for the entire team, a transition that wasn't without its setbacks along the way.

Through it, Rinne has emerged as a figure that exists in no one's shadow.

When top center Ryan Johansen was lost for the season with a hip injury in the Western Conference Final, Rinne was a rock in closing out a six-game set against Anaheim.

And now he has the Predators two wins from glory after bouncing back from a couple of disappointing performances.

"He's really blossomed and matured," Peverley said. "You can see he's become like an adopted son of Nashville. He's definitely become the face of the franchise, that's for sure."

Rinne shared with us how he imagined all of this might become a reality. He imagined it not necessarily from the perspective of an individual player, but rather a view from the collective.

"I think we want to do it not only for ourselves and our teammates and as a group," he said. "But also for our fans. I think this city will be just absolutely on fire."

Not sure he had any idea of just how prescient he might have been.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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