DETROIT - After facing 41, shots you would expect Pekka Rinne to look shell-shocked and tired.
Instead, Rinne looked as if he could play another three periods.
It was the Detroit Red Wings who looked done in and more than a little shell-shocked at what the Nashville Predators’ netminder did to them.
Rinne did everything except stand on his head to stop pucks as he led the Predators to a 3-1 win over the Wings at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday.
The win gives the Predators a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series with a chance to close it out Friday in Nashville.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Predators defenceman Kevin Klein. “If he doesn’t do what he did (Tuesday) there is no way we win.”
Indeed, it is as simple as that.
Rinne kept the game at 0-0, facing 28 shots in the first two periods while his teammates managed just 10. He held his team in the game until the Wings did what they’ve been prone to do these playoffs: make a mistake in their defensive zone.
The error came early in the third when the Wings left Predators forward Gabriel Bourque all alone in front of the net as he whipped the puck past Wings netminder Jimmy Howard.
The Wings managed to tie it on a Jiri Hudler power-play goal less than two minutes later.
But despite relentless pressure, the Wings could never get the lead.
The dagger came at the 6:25 mark of the third period.
With Rinne down and out, Hudler hit the post from a sharp angle. The Predators’ Martin Erat raced toward the Detroit zone on a partial break. He looked like the Pied Piper as three Wings followed him almost into the corner. Howard moved to close off the angle, leaving Klein alone in front.
When Erat found him with a pass he had an empty net and no one within 10 feet of him.
“All I was thinking was 'Don’t miss,' because I would never hear the end of it,” Klein said.
He didn’t miss and the goal punctuated yet another eye-popping defensive mistake by the Wings.
David Legwand, who had what looked like a good goal called back earlier in the period, rounded out the scoring for the Predators.
Rinne was a monster, not only because he kept making the initial save, but he rarely gave out a rebound, to which he credited his defencemen.
“(The Wings) take a lot of shots and they shoot from all over,” Rinne said. “As a team we really did a great job making those blocks and getting in the passing lanes. We’re playing desperate hockey defensively.”
Rinne says the Predators played their best game.
“There’s some things we have to clean up,” he said. “We can’t be too happy with our first two periods. But in the third we locked it down.”
The Red Wings did their best to turn an ugly situation into something a little prettier.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” said Wings blueliner Niklas Kronwall. “It’s easy to get frustrated, but you have to keep your head up and stay positive. If we keep doing what we’re doing, only get a little better in the defensive zone, things will get better.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock believes if his club keeps putting on the pressure things will turn around.
“You can’t tell me a team can keep playing an entire game in the offensive zone and not wind up all right,” he said. “They made a lot of mistakes but you can’t remember who made them because they had their goalie to cover them up.”
Nashville is the home of country music and Friday the Wings are going to find out if somewhere in that city there’s a fat lady singing.
The Predators are aware that, despite having a stranglehold on the series, it isn’t over yet.
“It’s a huge game Friday,” Klein said. “If they win it’s 3-2 and we have to come back and do that again. That’s something we don’t want to do.”
It isn’t over until the fat lady sings, but after the Red Wings threw everything they could at the Rinne and still came out on the short end, the songstress may be warming up.