The Nashville Predators took a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 3-2 win in the American Airlines Center on Monday night.
And they have one man to thank: Pekka Rinne.
With 40 saves, Rinne put in one of the more impressive playoff starts in his career (which is saying something). He faced 31 shots in the 2nd and 3rd period combined, fending off furious attacks by the Stars defense and hurt by occasionally leaky defense.
For example, this ridiculous save in the 3rd period to keep the game tied at 2-2.
#Preds steal Game 3 in Dallas.
Pekka Rinne was unbelievable, as you can see here:
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) April 16, 2019
Even the two goals he allowed were almost entirely on the Preds’ defense either breaking down or not being in position during transition play.
When this series is over, no matter who wins it, both teams will remember Game 3 as the one that Pekka Rinne stole.
Pekka Rinne, plus some lucky bounces
The Preds came out strong in the 1st period, getting 10 of the first 15 shots on goal. But after a power play came and went with nothing to show for it, the Stars got back into their defensive structure and the pace of the game changed.
The Stars used a high pressing defense to take control of the neutral zone. This forced the Nashville forecheckers to sag back and defend in their own zone. A power play gave Dallas some of their best chances, but the ice was already tilted at even strength. The Preds couldn’t get out of their own zone the rest of the way. Pekka Rinne was the MVP of the period, making several saves on the doorstep to keep the game tied.
But then the Preds got a break. Rocco Grimaldi took a shot on Ben Bishop that had no business going in the net, but did. That made it 1-0 just over three minutes into the 2nd period.
Then Filip Forsberg took a nice long lob pass from Nick Bonino, curled around the Stars defense and pocketed home a beautiful goal to make it 2-0.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 16, 2019
Shades of the 2018 playoffs where Filip Forsberg owned the Colorado defense with several goals just like this.
The Stars answered though, as Mats Zuccarello took the puck the other way for the score. And just after the Preds had an odd man rush to try and make it 3-0.
So it was 2-1 and the Stars had all the momentum. Eventually Jamie Benn would tie the game at 2-2 after he got lost in front of the net.
But then the Preds got another break.
A long range shot from Mikael Granlund took a friendly bounce off Bishop’s blocker and went into the net, giving the Preds a 3-2 lead with about eight minutes to go. It wasn’t as bad as the Grimaldi goal, more of an unfortunate bounce, but Bishop would probably like another shot at that one.
From there, the Preds clamped down on their own zone and did their best to deny the Stars any more good chances. With the extra attacker on the ice and the Dallas net empty, Nick Bonino nearly had a chance at an empty net goal, but couldn’t get it to go.
In the end, the Preds held on 3-2 and took a 2-1 series lead, mostly thanks to the work of Pekka Rinne.
Grabbing Home Ice Back
Perhaps the most important thing about this win is that Nashville regains home ice advantage in the series. That was something they lost when Dallas won Game 1 last Wednesday.
Even if the Preds lose on Wednesday, they head back home to Nashville with a road split. If you are the Preds, you take that all day.
Given what we saw tonight, I’m not sure winning on Wednesday will be easy. The Stars controlled play most of the night and were just a couple bounces away from winning this one running away.
But again, Pekka Rinne was the reason the Preds won tonight. This tells you about what the Preds really need to be able to win in this series: they need their big players to step up and play well in big games. Rinne and Forsberg did that tonight, as did P.K. Subban. We still need to see it from Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, and probably Viktor Arvidsson as well, but Rinne and Forsberg were enough tonight.
The Preds still have yet to play a complete 60-minute hockey game in this series, yet they own a 2-1 series lead. That says a lot about the Preds and it says a lot about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good, and sometimes you’d rather just have an insanely good goaltender.
— Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports —