SUNRISE, Fla. – Make no mistake, Pekka Rinne is the real deal. The 29-year-old Nashville Preadtors’ netminder made 39 saves en route to his league-high 36th victory Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center, as the Predators took care of the Florida Panthers 3-1. With the win, Rinne ties the Predators single-season high for wins. Tomas Vokoun equaled the mark in the 2005-06 season.
Rinne will have up to 17 chances to better the mark.
“I don’t say this in a sarcastic or negative way at all, but goaltending was the difference tonight,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “And it had nothing to do with what went on at our end. [Rinne] earns his keep every time he goes out. He had a heck of a game.”
The feeling was mutual from the Nashville side.
“[The Panthers] did some good things tonight, and played well in some areas,” forward Mike Fisher said. “Our goaltender played really well and that’s probably the difference.”
For Florida, this game was important. Coming off a 7-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Thursday, and leading by two points over the Jets, and three over the Washington Capitals, a win would have helped give the Panthers a cushion.It would also have helped their psyche. Florida now only has wins in two of their last eight.
To add insult to injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, putting them four points back in the closest race in the National Hockey League this season.
Nashville got on the board first in the opening frame. New acquisition Andrei Koystistyn, playing in his second game as a Predator, took the puck down the ice along the left side. He cut over the blue line towards the right circle and let go a snap shot from the left circle that went off the inside right post into the back of the net. His 13th goal of the season came at the 11:35 mark. Interestingly, former Montreal teammate Hal Gil had an assist on the goal, along with the other fellow new acquisition Paul Gaustad.
Kostitstyn’s goal was the 100th of his career and his first as a Predator.
Despite being outshot 15-6 in the opening frame, the Predators came out with a 1-0 lead.
Nashville did not waste any time doubling the lead. Fisher’s 19th goal of the 2011-12 campaign came just :28 into the second session. Martin Erat stole the puck behind the Panthers net and he fed it in front to a crashing Fisher who snapped the puck past Clemmensen to make it 2-0 Predators.
But the Panthers came charging back, as 7:49 into the period, Wojtek Wolski got a feed from Marcel Goc. Tomas Fleischmann came over the blue line at center, sending the puck down low to Goc in the left circle. He sent a hard pass of his own to Wolski who snuck into the right circle to receive the feed and score in the open net. The goal, Wolski’s second of the year, cut the Predators lead in half, but David Legwand’s third period goal gave them back the two goal cushion, ultimately deciding the game at 3-1.
The Predators find themselves comfortably in the playoffs with the number five seed, but their 83 points are six back of Detroit and St. Louis who hold the second and fourth spots, respectively.
“We can’t get comfortable,” Fisher said. “We do have a cushion and we know that but we want to keep moving up. We had some additions recently, and we want to make sure they’re playing comfortable and well for us, and improving as a team. We want to move up. We want to go into the playoffs playing our best hockey and we know we can play much better than we played tonight.”
The Predators will enjoy a few days off before returning to action against a desperate Los Angeles Kings team as they open a three-game homestand. Florida will look to bounce back against a team they’ve had little success against as of late, the Ottawa Senators, Sunday afternoon.
- Ed Jovanovski was given a “scheduled day off.” Tyson Strachan was called up from San Antonio (AHL) to take his spot. Jovanovski is scheduled to return to the ice Sunday
- The Panthers were stuck in the Winnipeg airport for most of the day Friday. Their charter plane had a maintenance issue in Winnipeg, and their charter company Miami Air had to find a new plane. They had already cleared US Customs, so they awaited a charter from the concourse area and on the broken down plane.
- Pekka Rinne (NAS) W, 39 Sv 1 GA
- Andrei Kostitsyn (NAS) G, A
- Wojtek Wolski (FLA) G