Nashville Predators: It’s Now Juuse Saros’ Turn to Deliver in the Playoffs

Pekka Rinne #35 and Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Pekka Rinne #35 and Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Everyone is facing some sort of pressure heading into this quirky NHL postseason, but Juuse Saros has more to prove for the Nashville Predators.

Pressure is sometimes an overused term thrown around in sports, but for some individual players it can be heightened more so than others. That looks to be the case for Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators as the qualifying round gets closer.

It’s no secret that you usually need elite goaltending to go deep and even get a sniff of the Stanley Cup in the playoffs. Teams with erratic goaltending have a brief playoff journey most of the time.

Whether it’s fair or not, Saros is going to have to prove himself again that he’s the guy to lead the Predators between the pipes and ready to emerge from the hefty shadow that is Pekka Rinne‘s legacy in Nashville.

Saros has seen playoff action in relief efforts, but he’s never been the guy heading into a playoff series. That’s always been the role for Rinne for many years now, and rightfully so.

But now Saros has to show the franchise it’s his turn to lead, and that they’ll be making a mistake if they bench him for Game 1 against the Arizona Coyotes.

Training camp battle?

Obviously Rinne and Saros have a great personal relationship and aren’t rooting against each other. Whichever one comes out as the Game 1 starter will have the full support of the other.

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But for the sake of debate, do we really think there should even be a battle for this position. Didn’t Saros already do enough to have this role locked up?

Saros is the primary reason the Predators are even in the position they’re in.  He put the team on his back down the stretch, most notably in a back-to-back sweep of a very strong Dallas Stars team.

Now it appears that Saros has to prove himself again, and proving himself over Rinne will be no easy task. A refreshed Rinne might dazzle coaches just enough to take the primary starting role back for Game 1 against Arizona.

If that happens, there’s going to be plenty of resistance from fans who think Saros is the future of the franchise and much more trustworthy than an aging Rinne who was very erratic for much of the regular season.

Check out this piece from TSN Hockey that was put out there just before the pause that highlights Saros’ push for the lead role and his journey to get here:

The real pressure for Saros, however, will come when and if he does retain his starting role. He’s the perceived future franchise goaltender for the Predators, and having a complete dud of a playoff performance will raise a lot of eyebrows and heighten concerns moving into next season.

I think Saros will be chosen as the starter for Game 1 of the qualifying round. However, there’s going to be a short leash for whomever gets that starting role. If the Predators get blasted badly in the first game, then a goaltender change for Game 2 is a realistic possibility.

How much will that damage Saros’ stock heading into next season if he’s yanked for Rinne early in the series, or even during Game 1? It certainly won’t help his confidence.

This is why Saros is facing more pressure than any other player on the team. He’s still proving himself as the future despite already doing a lot to get the Predators where they’re at as the No.6 seed in the West.

Rinne isn’t facing the same kind of pressure. His storied and successful career is mostly written, aside from getting a Stanley Cup. That could still happen, but him not playing well or getting pulled for Saros wouldn’t be a major shock for me. All it would do is make me scratch my head on why the coaching staff started Rinne over Saros in the first place.

It’s Saros’ turn to deliver in the playoffs

I’m already on record for strongly saying Saros should be the undisputed starter for Game 1. Unless he just shows up completely out of whack for the two-week training camp, then I don’t see how he gets replaced by Rinne.

It will be much easier to transition to Rinne as the safety net if Saros falters over doing it the other way around. We’ve already seen in the past the playoff debacles that forced Saros to come in relief of Rinne when the game was already out of hand.

Anyone remember the Dallas pounding last year when the Predators had a 2-1 series lead? Saros actually played pretty well, but the game was already way out of hand when he came in relief. It also wasn’t all Rinne’s fault as the Predators kept taking dumb penalties.

The real pressure will start for Saros in that first game as the starter. When he has to validate that decision of him over Rinne and pick up the great momentum he was building before the pause.

Not an easy task for any goaltender, especially a young one who’s trying to prove to everyone that he is indeed the future between the pipes for the Nashville Predators.

One positive thing about all of this is how supportive both goaltenders have always been of each other. Rinne is one of the best teammates and mentors a young goaltender could probably ask for.

Saros is fully prepared for this moment, and deserves the opportunity to meet the pressure with success to carry the Predators deep on their quest for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in this crazy season.