NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some have wondered if Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette is risking wearing down goalkeeper Pekka Rinne by starting him in 27 of the first 30 games.
The better question at this point might be why Laviolette would even consider sitting Rinne, considering how well the big Finnish netminder has been stopping the puck.
In a duel with countryman Tuukka Rask on Tuesday night, Rinne stopped 33 shots through overtime and then stoned all three attempts in the shootout as Nashville notched a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.
Rinne (20-6-1) is now 4-1 in shootouts, stopping the last 14 attempts. After center Derek Roy beat Rask on the shootout’s first try, Rinne denied left winger Brad Marchand, right winger Reilly Smith and center Patrice Bergeron as the sellout crowd of 17,113 erupted.
“There’s no one reason why we keep winning games,” said Rinne, trying to downplay his influence on the Predators’ 20-8-2 start. “Everyone in this locker room has been contributing. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
While many of general manager David Poile’s offseason acquisitions have paid off handsomely — center Mike Ribeiro potted his ninth goal and left winger James Neal drew the lead assist on that tally — the biggest factor has been the return of a healthy Rinne.
Sidelined most of last year with a spontaneous bacterial infection in his hip, Rinne leads the league in wins and boasts a gaudy .937 save percentage. He made a spate of saves on point-blank opportunities in this one, robbing center Carl Soderberg on two golden chances in overtime.
“He makes so many good saves, so many big saves when you need them,” said Laviolette of Rinne. “We were playing a desperate hockey club in Boston that has a lot of talent, but (Rinne) did tonight what he’s been doing all year.”
Rinne had to be that good to get the Predators into a shootout, because Rask matched him through overtime. Rask (12-9-3) entered the night 42nd among NHL goalies with a .911 save percentage, but stood tall in this one with 38 stops.
Included among those were a pad save on center Matt Cullen’s 8-foot wrister in overtime, followed by a tricky save on defenseman Roman Josi’s wrister from the left faceoff circle.
“We got that point out of (Rask) making those big stops in overtime and they earned an extra point by their goaltender making the big saves,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “A fraction here and there made the difference between winning and losing that point.”
It was the third straight 3-2 loss for Boston (15-13-3), which fell to 1-4-2 in its last seven games and scored two goals or less for the 12th time in 15 games.
After a scoreless first period, Boston took the lead at 4:04 of the second period when left winger Milan Lucic poked home a rebound for his sixth goal. It came eight seconds after a power play expired.
Nashville equalized at 19:30 of the second when center Mike Fisher deflected a wrist shot by defenseman Shea Weber past Rask for his second goal. It was the Predators’ second power-play goal in 47 chances at home this season, and their first since opening night on Oct. 9.
Ribeiro gave Nashville a brief 2-1 lead at 1:31 of the third period with a one-timer from the right faceoff circle, his ninth goal of the season. But the Bruins tied it at 3:28 when Smith made a beautiful move around a defender and slipped the puck behind Rinne for his eighth goal.
However, the Predators and Rinne won the duel, keeping alive their distinction of not losing consecutive games this season. They stayed three points behind first place Chicago in the Central Division and a point in back of second place St. Louis.
“We know it’s a tight division and a tight conference,” said Ribeiro. “It was important to get these two points tonight.”
NOTES: Boston entered Tuesday night’s game with only 69 power-play chances, by far the fewest in the NHL. Washington is closest to Boston, but has had 14 more opportunities. … Nashville LW Viktor Stalberg (lower-body injury) and LW Taylor Beck (concussion) skated with the team at practice Tuesday, although neither played in the game. … Bruins C David Krejci missed his 11th straight game with an undisclosed injury, although he did travel with the team for its three-game road trip. … Predators D Anton Volchenkov (lower-body injury) left the game midway through the first period and did not return.