The Nashville Predators will be playing the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series begins Friday evening in Anaheim, Calif.
Nashville has a lineup built to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. They have a solid defense corps led by Roman Josi and Shea Weber, two elite goal scorers in Filip Forsberg and James Neal, and for the first time in team history, have a true first-line center in Ryan Johansen.
All the pieces are there, but the one aspect that has been less than perfect this season has been their goaltending from starter Pekka Rinne. This has been a concern stemming back to last season.
Ironically in past seasons, goaltending has been the strength while scoring has been a problem.
One cannot forget Rinne’s shaky performance in last year’s first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Rinne posted a 2.68 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage, and Nashville was eliminated in six games.
It is no secret that Rinne has been streaky this season. Through Rinne’s first 38 starts of the season, he was 16-15-7 with a 2.58 GAA and a .902 save percentage. But since then (Jan. 21), he is a stellar 18-6-3 with a 2.34 GAA and a .916 save-percentage. Those 18 wins tie Washington Capitals’ netminder Braden Holtby for second-most in the league in that time span.
At 33-years old, the treacherous 82-game season can be taxing on Rinne. He is the ultimate competitor and would play every game if he could. The reality, however, is that he needs rest every now and then, and he thrives when he gets it. Entering Friday’s Game 1, Rinne will have eight days of rest.
Not including the All-Star Break, Rinne’s longest rest of the season lasted six days in mid-February. Afterwards, Rinne went a on a roll, going 12-1-2 with a 1.85 GAA and a .936 save-percentage with two shutouts in his next 15 starts.
If Rinne begins to slump, head coach Peter Laviolette should feel comfortable calling on backup Carter Hutton to carry Nashville for a game or two. Hutton has had a solid season, posting a 7-5-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .918 save percentage with two shutouts. However, Hutton has yet to appear in an NHL playoff game.
Hopefully, for the Predators, it does not get to that point.
Nashville’s goaltending will either make or break them this postseason. With this being one of few remaining opportunities to win a Stanley Cup in Rinne’s career, we should see him more inspired than ever before.
Featured Image was provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers