It felt like the end of the world for Nashville Predators fans on Tuesday, January 13. The team’s star goaltender Pekka Rinne left the game in the third period that night after a collision with Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins. The thought on everyone’s mind was, “Hopefully, the injury is not too severe.”
Thankfully, that was not the case, and a day later, Rinne was diagnosed with a sprained knee and was set to be sidelined for the next three-to-five weeks.
Now, Predators fans can relax. The native of Kempele, Finland is set to start Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks in a battle between the League’s best.
If there was a good time for Rinne to suffer an injury during the regular season, mid-January was probably the best time. The Predators were creeping up on the NHL All-Star Break, and in three weeks, they were to play five of the next eight games against Eastern Conference opponents. The other three were important Central Division games, but two of which were against the mediocre Colorado Avalanche.
Plus, it helped to be atop the NHL standings and two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, who were second in the Central Division, with two games in hand. There was plenty of room for error, something many expected without Rinne. Who really wants to win the President’s Trophy anyway? (See the San Jose Sharks.)
However, Carter Hutton had other ideas.
Nashville’s backup goaltender was called into action with just five prior starts through 41 games and a winless record of 0-3-2. Marek Mazanec was re-called from the Predators’ AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals to fill the backup role.
Hutton struggled occasionally, and there were a number of goals against that could have easily been classified as “should have been saved.” Then, there were moments like this against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night that could have easily been classified as “should not have been saved.”
The native of Thunder Bay, Ontario kept the Predators winning while awaiting Rinne’s return, notching a 4-1-2 record.
Without Rinne, the Predators went 4-2-2 and retained its top spot in the standings.
Nashville’s biggest worry was the potential of Chicago surpassing them in the standings. Surprisingly, the St. Louis Blues, who were five points back at the time of Rinne’s injury, ended up being the team breathing on the Predators’ neck in the race for the divisional title.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 4, 2015
Sitting just two points behind Nashville now, the Blues are 9-0-1 in their last ten games.
According to SportsClubStats.com, the Predators have a 99.98% chance of reaching the postseason and 46.5% chance of winning the President’s Trophy. With 32 games remaining in the regular season and the return of arguably the best goaltender in the NHL, Nashville is sitting pretty.
Rinne will look to extend his League leading wins to 30 on Thursday, 18 shy of tying the NHL wins record set by Martin Brodeur. In the coming months, Rinne’s job is to make a case for MVP and the Vezina Trophy to the world, something everyone who follows the team already recognizes.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.