Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne backstopped his team to a 2-0 shutout win over the Phoenix Coyotes tonight.
The spotless, 29-save effort was the 162nd career victory for Rinne, a number that gives the Finnish netminder sole ownership of the most wins recorded by a Predators goaltender.
A resounding kick save in the third period on Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata defined Rinne’s victory tonight, a win that put him in front of the goaltender, Tomas Vokoun (161 wins), that helped Nashville grow from an expansion club to playoff participant.
“It’s a milestone and it feels good for sure, it’s also a testament to me playing on some good teams,” Rinne said. “But it feels good and passing a goalie like Tomas Vokoun that did a lot of good things for this franchise is cool too. I’m proud that I had this chance and it shows they’ve trusted me over the years.”
If things had gone more according to plan this season, tonight’s accomplishment probably would have come somewhere in November for Rinne, but a hip infection sidelined him for 51 games. However, the goaltender never gave up on his goal of returning this season.
“I never thought it was the end. I just never knew how long it was going to take, that was the hardest thing. Never once did I think this might be it, or that I wouldn’t come back this season,” Rinne said after his first game back in early March. “I didn’t really worry about that too much.”
“He’s obviously had a really tough season with his hip and it’s awesome to see a player battle through something like that. He really kept us in the game in the first period, so all credit to him,” Predators forward Patric Hornqvist said.
Nashville forward Craig Smith snapped a scoreless tie with his 21st tally of the season in the second frame and that’s all the offensive support the Predators goaltender needed. Rinne was efficient and effective while notching the 32nd shutout of his career and the second of this season.
The win tonight was just Rinne’s ninth of the campaign, but fifth since his return from the life-threatening injury he went down with in October.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since my return, so it’s good to feel like I’m playing my game and doing what I know I can,” said Rinne. “I just wish I could have played more during this season though.”
Always the player that garners the loudest roar from the crowd when his name is announced in the starting lineup, Rinne’s play has defined the Predators for the last several seasons while he’s been Nashville’s go-to-guy in the crease. An 8th round draft pick, Rinne’s road to the NHL wasn’t an exceptionally easy one but rather one that he earned predominately with the help of Predators goaltender coach Mitch Korn.
“He’s been an important guy in my road here. There’s no doubt the last nine years he’s made a difference for sure. Obviously he’s got a good track record. So along with Mitch there are a lot of people that I’m very thankful to for getting me this far,” Rinne said.
The win tonight was not one of the more flashy or spectacular performances for the 31-year-old, but that’s all right with Rinne.
“I thought the guys did a really good job tonight, especially on the penalty kill. That’s probably when the Coyotes got their best chances, and we did a really good job blocking shots and getting the clears when we needed to and playing solid defensively overall,” Rinne said. “And when they did get shots, I was able to see them well.”