Barry Trotz does not even need to be asked.
The Nashville Predators coach seizes any opportunity he can these days to campaign for Pekka Rinne as a candidate for some of the National Hockey League’s top individual honors, in particular those for the league’s top goalie and most valuable player.
“I think he’s a Vezina and a Hart [Trophy] candidate,” Trotz said recently.
Similarly, there is virtually no question who will be Trotz’s starting goalie over the remaining three weeks of the season.
“I just told [Rinne], ‘You’re going to be in every game unless I say you’re not,” he said.
Rinne actually rested when the Predators and Buffalo Sabres met Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. Both teams played the previous night, and Rinne faced 40 shots in the Predators’ victory over Detroit.
It paid off — at least in the short term. Anders Lindback gave up three second-period goals, two of them 42 seconds apart, but the Predators rallied in dramatic fashion for a 4-3 overtime victory in a matchup of the eighth-place teams in the Western and Eastern conferences.
Blake Geoffrion registered the 20th hat trick in franchise history when he scored his second and third 64 seconds apart and tied it with 1:23 remaining in regulation. Martin Erat then got the game-winner 27 seconds into the extra period.
The Predators entered the contest tied with Vancouver for the league lead in goals-against per game at 2.29. With the three goals allowed, Nashville fell to second with a 2.30 average.
Rinne trailed Boston’s Tim Thomas by a fraction for the individual lead — Rinne’s was 2.09 and Thomas’ was 2.08.
His 27 wins, though, were seven behind league leaders Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Carey Price of Montreal — players from two of the league’s glamour franchises and major media markets. He had the same number of appearances as Howard.
“We know how good [Rinne] is,” captain Shea Weber said last week. “He is our MVP, and without him I don’t think we’d be in this situation right now. So he might not get the recognition around the league, but we certainly know what he means to us.”
Before Sunday, Rinne started 20 consecutive contests — the longest stretch of his career and fourth-longest in franchise history — and was 10-7-3 over that span. He allowed more than two goals in just one of those 60 periods.
Lindback stopped all 11 Sabres’ shots he saw in the opening 20 minutes, which ended with Nashville up 1-0 courtesy of Geoffrion’s first goal. He then allowed the three goals when he saw 17 more pucks in the second but eventually finished with 35 saves, which matched his second-highest total, and improved to 11-5-2 overall – 6-1-2 against Eastern Conference opponents.
There is reason to think that was his final appearance of the regular season.
The Predators have nine games remaining and just one back-to-back — their final two games, April 8 against Columbus and April 9 at St. Louis. If their playoff status remains in doubt at that point, there will be no doubt who plays those two.
“We’ll make those decisions on a day-to-day basis,” Trotz said.
They ought to be easy ones.
• The Predators had no wins in the four-on-four overtime period in their first 70 games. Now they have two in their last three contests.
The primary and secondary assists on both overtime goals went to Ryan Suter and David Legwand, respectively.
• Suter has 31 assists, which makes this the third straight season he has had 30 or more. Kimmo Timonen and Cliff Ronning (four straight) are the only players in franchise history with more.
• Geoffrion’s hat trick was the second by a Predators’ player against Buffalo in 14 all-time meetings. Vladimir Orszagh scored three in a 4-1 victory at home on Nov. 29, 2003.
The Predators are 19-0-1 all-time when one of their players has a hat trick. The exception was a 3-3 tie with Phoenix (Scott Walker scored all three) on Dec. 22, 2003.