The 2013-2014 season didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to for Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
To begin, the Finnish netminder was rushing to prepare for the start of the season after undergoing a hip arthroscopy in May 2013. Rinne’s recovery didn’t quite meet the deadline of training camp, but the netminder was back in his usual spot between the pipes in time for the start of the campaign. However, another wrench was about to be thrown into the plan.
This is part two of our new series this month. We’ll be looking at the four main areas that defined the Nashville Predators 2013-2014 season. Every Thursday come here for the next part in the series as we “throwback” to the players, moments and events that defined this past campaign. Read part one on the Predators rookies here.
After only the 10th game of the season, Rinne’s health was in jeopardy again. Flying home after a start against the Minnesota Wild on October 22nd, Rinne became feverish and nauseous. Doctors determined the goaltender’s hip was infected with E. coli, a complication from his first surgery. The life-threatening illness suddenly his main focus, Rinne went back under the knife and saw a murky pathway to recovery laid out before him.
The second injury kept Rinne out of the Predators lineup for 51 games and ultimately defined this past season for the entire team.
Backup netminder Carter Hutton eventually rose to fill Rinne’s void, something that wasn’t originally in the cards. (Earlier this month, Hutton inked a two-contract extension; a reward for the 20 wins he garnered during Rinne’s absence.) But the loss of the big Finn cost the Predators their lynchpin in net and contributed to the club missing the postseason for the second-straight year.
As much as Rinne’s injury stands out when reflecting on the past season, however, the 31-year-old’s determination at making a comeback should be thought of too.
“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 in March. “I didn’t really worry about that too much.”
And true to his words, Rinne pushed on. Using crutches for weeks–wearing an IV to fight infection for many of them–Rinne slowly moved forward. “Obviously you want to get back healthy as soon as possible. The most difficult thing was that there wasn’t a timeline or time table,” Rinne explained. It took until the new year before the goaltender could think about getting back on the ice–but then in early February–there he was.
— Predlines.com (@PredlinesNSH) February 7, 2014
At first, it almost seemed too good to be true. Out of game action for nearly four months, it felt almost impossible that Nashville might soon be getting their All-Star back in goal.
But practices happened, then a two-game conditioning assignment with the Milwuakee Admirals and finally on March 4th, Rinne was between the pipes for the Nashville Predators.
“It’s so much fun right now just being back. I just really enjoy every minute of it,” Rinne said after the start against the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I really appreciate to have the chance to be back playing. It is a process, but I felt confident and comfortable out there tonight.”
His play wasn’t spotless over the remaining four weeks of the regular season, but seeing Rinne make saves and notch wins was nothing short of remarkable knowing the history of his season. The wild road for Rinne culminated in mid-April with an accomplishment that helped to ease some of the disappointment of missing so much of a campaign that saw the Predators finish three points shy of a playoff birth.
With a 29-save shutout of the Phoenix Cotoyes on April 10th, Rinne recorded the 162nd victory of his career (all with Nashville) to become the franchise’s all-time wins leader.
“It’s a milestone and it feels good for sure, it’s also a testament to me playing on some good teams,” Rinne said after the contest against the Coyotes. “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.”
The significance of Rinne’s win wasn’t lost on Predators forward Patric Hornqvist that night.
“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,” Hornqvist said.
The 2013-2014 season concluded with a 10-10-3 record for the Finn, a far cry from numbers usually put up by Pekka Rinne. The stats shouldn’t be the sole focus when reflecting on Rinne’s campaign, however, because like it or not–this season was about what the goaltender accomplished off the ice. And it was no small feat.