The wear and tear of a record-setting regular season did not show in Pekka Rinne’s performance.
Not down the stretch, when the Nashville Predators netminder won 10 of his final 16 decisions. And not in the first round of the NHL playoffs when he had three games with 35 or more saves — all Predators’ wins — as Nashville eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games, capped by Friday’s 2-1 triumph at Bridgestone Arena.
His workload was, however, evident in his equipment. Over that closing stretch — he estimated the final 15 games or so — Rinne donned a new set of pads, his third of the season.
“Usually, with pads, I go through two sets, but now this year it was a few more games and, [therefore] more traveling with wet gear and all that stuff,” Rinne said. “So it kind of breaks down way easier.”
As he went through equipment and tied the franchise record with 73 games played, Rinne also raised the standard of goaltending for a franchise that has been better than most in that regard for much of its history. He set Nashville records for wins (43) and shutouts (eight) in a single season as well as career shutouts (25).
Yet there was reason for concern about his ability to hold up when it mattered most.
Since 1999-00, the only goalie who started 70 games or more in the regular season and made it to the Stanley Cup finals was New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, who did it three times. At the start of this postseason, the playoff winning percentage over that same span for goalies who started 70 or more over was .460.
Rinne, the NHL’s only goalie this season to play 70 or more games for a playoff team, bucked that trend with 151 saves on 160 shots (a .944 save percentage) in the five games against Detroit. He became the first goalie to limit the Red Wings to fewer than four goals in every game of a playoff series since 2002-03, when Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the Anaheim Ducks did it in a first-round sweep. Anaheim made it all the way to the finals that year before they lost to the Devils and Brodeur, who had played 73 games — sound familiar? — during the regular season.
“Going into the playoffs we had the mindset that if we play the way we’re capable of, and [Rinne] plays the way he’s capable of we have a chance to beat them,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We came out, stuck to our gameplan and we were able to win.”
According to coach Barry Trotz, the preseason plan was for Rinne to play roughly 65 games in 2011-12. Instead, the 29-year-old tied Tomas Vokoun’s franchise record set in 2003-04, and the 73 games were an increase of 14 percent over the previous campaign. At one point beginning in late December he started 29 of 31.
Rinne’s 4,169 minutes were 48 more than Vokoun played in his 73 appearances. Likewise, Rinne faced 2,153 shots, well more than the 1,958 Vokoun saw in 2003-04.
If he was tired over the last two weeks, though, it did not show. His 1.81 goals-against average in the series set a Predators’ postseason record
“Over the course of the series, obviously we couldn’t score enough,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Detroit was seventh in the NHL (third in the Western Conference) during the regular season with an average of 2.92 goals per game but managed just 1.8 per game against Nashville and Rinne. That, despite the fact it averaged 32 shots over the five games, nearly identical to its regular-season average of 32.2 (fifth in the league).
In particular, the Red Wings peppered Rinne during Games 3 and 4 at Joe Louis Arena. They had more than 40 shots in each and with 84 in all more than doubled Nashville’s total in those same two games (39).
“They’re a strong hockey team,” center David Legwand said. “We had [Rinne] and we might have stolen a couple games in their [arena] and did the right things [Friday] night and took the series.”
At this point the only question seems to be how much more Rinne’s equipment can take before he has to change again.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It depends how many games we go to. They still take a lot of beating and sometimes they just break or there’s some piece that you can’t replace so you have no other choice.
“I don’t want to get too attached to the gear and make it to difficult to switch up if I need to.”