For most, the idea of the Nashville Predators without Pekka Rinne simply is unthinkable.
Not only has the Finnish netminder played as many games as any other NHL goalie and faced more shots than any of them this season, he also signed a seven-year contract — the richest in franchise history — that begins with next season. Thus, there really is no reason to ponder how things might go without him.
Yet there were the Predators on Tuesday, in the midst of a three-way battle for playoff positioning, in front of yet another sellout crowd at home and Rinne was nowhere to be found. Following a pregame visit with doctors and trainers to gauge the effect of an illness that kept him out of the morning skate hours earlier, he was sent home.
Turns out it was not so bad.
Anders Lindback made 25 saves, including two early in overtime and then stopped all three skaters he faced in a shootout, and the Predators turned back the Minnesota Wild 2-1. The victory moved Nashville back into fourth place in the Western Conference standings and ended Minnesota’s three-game win streak, all against teams with much on the line.
“It’s crazy,” Nick Spaling, who set up the Predators’ only goal said. “[Lindback] has been doing it all year. I think that’s a big confidence boost for everybody — for the team and for him, personally, to come in at this time of the year and play so well.”
Gabriel Bourque scored the lone Nashville goal, and Alexander Radulov was the only player for either side to convert in the shootout, which was the first of Lindback’s NHL career.
Lindback earned his 15th career victory in his 37th appearance since he made his NHL debut in the 2010-11 opener but never had gone beyond the four-on-four overtime period. In stopping all three shooters, he became the fifth different goalie in franchise history to record a win in the tiebreaking procedure.
“It’s been almost two years now,” Lindback said. “I have kind of been waiting for it a little bit, to get it over with, to get the first one in. It was fun. It’s fun to help the team win.”
He did it against the team that had more shootout victories this season (10) than any other in the Western Conference.
The three shooters he faced — Erik Christensen, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi — were a combined 13-for-24 with five game-deciding conversions this season. The puck rolled off Christensen’s stick before he shot, but Lindback stopped the other two.
“You throw a couple of guys that they threw at him … Christensen has been money in the shootouts the last few years,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Then you have a guy like Koivu and Setoguchi … that was a real test for him.”
Earlier in the day, Trotz said he started the season with the idea that Rinne would play about 65 games this season. Already, he has appeared in 71 (two shy of Tomas Vokoun’s franchise record).
Thus, this was just Lindback’s ninth start of the season and only his fourth against a Western Conference opponent.
“He’s been put in some tough situations this year — going against a lot of teams from the East, teams he hasn’t seen a whole lot, [and] on a lot of days’ rest,” captain Shea Weber said. “I think he’s feeling good about himself and we’re lucky to have him.”
• Nashville was able to send home Rinne because earlier in the day goalie Chet Pickard, a first-round draft pick (18th overall) in 2008 was recalled following the completion of his season at Cincinnati (ECHL).
Pickard went 14-12-2 with a 3.12 goals-against average.
• With the victory, the Predators improve to 46-26-8 and raised their point total to 100 on the season. It is the fourth time in history they have reached triple digits.
“One hundred points is a pretty good standard … especially with the parity in the league,” Trotz said. “… It’s just a little bit better than last year.”
They finished with 99 in 2010-11.
• Before Radulov’s successful attempt, Nashville had converted just one shootout chance in its previous 13.