The Predators made sure Pekka Rinne’s 300th win wasn’t in doubt.
Seven different Preds found the back of the net and Rinne reached the significant milestone as Nashville defeated the San Jose Sharks by a 7-1 final on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. It’s Nashville’s third win in four nights, bumping them to 83 points and a continued first-place spot in the Central Division.
A 33-save performance turned into Rinne’s 300th NHL victory as the Finnish netminder became just the 34th goaltender in NHL history to reach the mark.
“It was something that the guys were focused on too,” Rinne said of the milestone. “San Jose didn’t have a lot of scoring chances tonight. [It was an] easy night for me. I kind of helped [San Jose] get on the board. That was a soft goal. But a win like that in a milestone game is nice.”
“I think everybody knew what was going on,” Laviolette said of Rinne. “It was a big night for him. One of many, one of 300, one of his whole career. He’s just been fantastic, not only tonight, not only this year, but his whole career he’s just been incredible for this organization. The way he’s back stopped it for so many years with so much consistency. What you see on the ice is incredible. The person that he is, is even better than that, so we’re fortunate to have a guy like that here.”
The Predators gave Rinne a 2-0 lead to work with in the first period as Nick Bonino scored less than two minutes into the contest, and later found Scott Hartnell who directed the puck past Aaron Dell with less than a minute to play in the frame.
Logan Couture broke the shutout bid midway through the second stanza, but Kevin Fiala’s flubbed deke worked out in his favor, as it fooled Dell and slid through the five hole to give Nashville a two-goal lead once more after 40 minutes.
That lead widened in the third with Viktor Arvidsson tallying his fourth goal in the last three games, and then the forward found Ryan Johansen in the slot for a 5-1 score. Mattias Ekholm and Calle Jarnkrok added two more before the night was over.
“[I am] very proud,” Rinne said. “I was 22 when I came here to this organization. I spent three years in Milwaukee and now 10 years here. It’s my second home. It’s where I’ve spent my adulthood and grown up as a man and as a person. I consider this my team. Hopefully, one day, I can end my playing days here.”
While Rinne’s accomplishment took precedent, the fact Nashville put up seven goals against one of the West’s top clubs is nothing to take lightly. After a bit of a rough patch over the past couple of weeks, the Predators are starting to show once more just what they’re capable of when they play to their potential.
And if Thursday night’s effort is any sign of things to come, the Predators could be starting to peak with the final 22 games of the season in sight.
“The last two weeks we’ve gotten points and we’ve gotten wins, but I think there has just been periods and certain areas in the game that we’ve been playing really well,” Ekholm said. “Tonight, we really showed what kind of damage this team can do and when everyone is playing like this. It could be a fun stretch.”
Only 33 others before him have done it.
And as the final horn sounded on Thursday night, shortly after Pekka Rinne had made his 33rd and final save of the night, the veteran puck stopper became the 34th goaltender in NHL history to record 300 wins, an elite club to say the least.
In addition to becoming the seventh active goaltender to attain the feat, Rinne is also just the third Finnish netminder to record NHL win No. 300. As he stepped to the microphone on the Preds bench after being named the game’s First Star, Rinne became emotional as he thought of his family and friends watching back home and of all he’s been through to make it to this point.
“Right after the game, I got a pretty cool reaction from the crowd,” Rinne said. “I really appreciate it. You don’t really set that kind of goal for yourself, how many wins you hope to win in your career. It’s a lot of wins. I’m proud of it. Being here for a long time, playing for really good teams and winning hockey; I think that’s the biggest factor in my success.
“I didn’t want to cry to be honest with you,” Rinne said. “[It was] the crowd’s reaction. In those moments, you take a look back. It’s a lot of things.”
Rinne didn’t have to have his best night, but he was solid nonetheless, just as he has been night after night throughout his career. And for a guy often referred to as “the backbone” of the club by his Predators teammates, Rinne held firm once more – the 300th occasion in the past decade.
“To work with a guy like Pekka on a daily basis, off the ice, in practice, to watch his work ethic, his character, to see the leadership that he has and sets the example for our team… that’s the reason why this team has been successful, at least in my time here and probably for his whole career,” Laviolette said. “Like a game, it can never always be perfect but to have somebody like that who leads every day by example and is as talented as he his, that’s the reason why this organization has experienced some success.”
Viktor Arvidsson skated in his 200th NHL contest on Thursday night, all of them coming with Nashville.
In the last nine meetings between the Preds and Sharks at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville has limited San Jose to two or fewer goals eight times and scored at least five goals five times.
For the first time in franchise history, the Predators will be on NBC for a regular-season contest, an 11 a.m. CT start this Sunday at Bridgestone Arena as the St. Louis Blues come to town. Nashville will then embark for a four-game trip, beginning on Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report