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Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette tight-lipped on Game 3 starting goalie vs. Pens

By
Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne of Finland makes a glove save. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne of Finland makes a glove save. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette on Thursday declined to specify whether franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne will start in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That doesn't mean that backup Juuse Saros will start Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena after he replaced Rinne in the third period of Wednesday's Game 2 for his first career playoff appearance.

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That seems unlikely.

It does, however, illustrate the hard times the Predators face as they trail Pittsburgh 2-0 with their top goalie struggling.

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Rinne has been described by his teammates throughout the postseason as Nashville's best player and MVP, but the Penguins have put the pressure squarely on the 34-year-old Finn's shoulders.

Rinne entered the Stanley Cup Final with stellar numbers -- a 12-4 mark with two shutouts, a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Against the Penguins, however, Rinne has allowed eight goals on 36 shots and has not made stops at key times in the two games at PPG Paints Arena.

It's pretty clear that Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray is outplaying Rinne. Murray, who is 23, is technically a rookie despite stepping in for injured Marc-Andre Fleury a year ago and backstopping Pittsburgh to the Cup.

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Nashville has outshot Pittsburgh 64-39, but the Penguins have a 9-4 advantage in goals, including one empty-netter.

"The limited chances they've had, they've done a good job," Rinne said after Game 2.

In Game 1, Pittsburgh went an astounding 37 minutes without a shot on goal with the game tied 3-3. When the Penguins did get a shot, it was the winning goal by Jake Guentzel in the third period, and Rinne finished with just seven saves on 11 shots.

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In Game 2, Murray preserved a 1-1 tie by repelling a flurry of Predators' shots in the final minute of the first period. It was still 1-1 at the start of the third when the Penguins took a turn at peppering the Nashville net.

Unlike Murray in the first, Rinne didn't preserve the tie. He was beaten three times in the first 3:28 of the period, and that's when he got pulled.

Saros stopped the only two official shots he faced. He let one get by him, but that goal was overturned upon review because of an offside call.

Rinne was caught between lamenting his first two games and looking ahead.

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"It's always, when you lose a couple games and get pulled, you're not happy how things went, but you have to put those things behind and focus on the things you can control," Rinne said. "That's the Game 3 right now that I'm focusing (on) and having the opportunity to go home and play in our building."

Laviolette was succinct when asking about his Game 3 starting goaltender.

"We don't talk about the lineup," he said. "We're going to stay consistent with that."

Laviolette avoided the question a different way after Game 2, saying, "Pekka has been excellent for us all year long, like I said. There are things that we could have done. All three goals in the third period were odd-man rushes."

That support seems unwavering from the Predators, who blame themselves for giving up too many prime chances against Pittsburgh, which has the NHL's top four scorers this postseason and is averaging a league-best 3.19 goals a game.

"We've got to help him out a little better," center and team captain Mike Fisher said. "There's no question we can do a better job."

Rinne could benefit from the series' change in venue.

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In this playoff run, Rinne owns a 7-1 mark with a 1.54 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage at home. That includes a 3-0 record in Game 3s, with a 1.22 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.

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