- Craig Custance
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was such an incredible save that Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter wasn't sure he saw it correctly. He was right there, but it didn't add up. Usually when Pavel Datsyuk uses his incredible vision to set up Henrik Zetterberg for a wide-open shot, it's buried.
So when Suter saw his goalie, the 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne, diving in desperation to protect Nashville's tenuous one-goal, third-period lead, it was all too much. Nobody makes that save on Zetterberg. And nobody that big should be that athletic.
But there was Rinne, stretching across the crease deflecting the puck and any efforts immediately after to convert a much-needed Detroit Red Wings power-play goal.
"I thought I saw it. Then I'm like, 'No. He didn't just do it,'" Suter said.
Suter looked up to the scoreboard for replay confirmation of what he'd witnessed. He got it. It was one of 35 saves for Rinne in Nashville's 3-2 win over the Red Wings in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, but none were bigger. None lifted the team as much and inspired the Bridgestone Arena crowd that was nervously anticipating the Red Wings rally that inevitably arrives.
Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon was on the bench when it happened, and the entire bench erupted.
"It gave us a little kick and we just respond after that," he said.
After the game, in the Predators' dressing room, Rinne came out to talk while wearing shorts and holding a black machine with countless black wires emerging from it, attached to his legs. Blue stickers held the wires in place on his legs, his skin pulsating with each wave of electricity sent from the black box. It's a machine that helps remove lactic acid. It creates blood flow. But all the wires hanging from Rinne's legs only reinforced the growing notion: This guy can't be human.
He survived a game in which Detroit's shot total went from five in the first period to 16 in each of the following two. He never lost his calm. Never lost his composure.
This was his 73rd start of the season, and there's no sign he's wearing down. He can't. If this game was any indication, the battle between him and Zetterberg is far from over, and the next barrage of shots from the Red Wings is only the next period away.
But there's a secret. Nobody conserves energy like Pekka Rinne does off the ice. Back in his AHL days with Milwaukee, roommate Kevin Klein had to set multiple alarms in the desperate hope that one of them would get Rinne out of bed.
If the Predators meet up anywhere, there's a good chance Rinne is the last to arrive. It's the running joke they've come to accept. Rinne is simply on Pekka time.
"He's always been like that," Klein said, after a win in which Rinne credited Klein for his effectiveness at blocking shots. "We like to tease him a little bit. He's one of the slowest humans off the ice. Going anywhere, getting up, whatever. When he hits that ice, man -- he saves his energy for the ice, that's for sure."
It's been a while since a workhorse goalie won a Stanley Cup. Tim Thomas played in only 57 games before his incredible playoff run last season. Antti Niemi played in 39 before helping the Blackhawks win it all in 2010. Marc-Andre Fleury played in a manageable 62 games before leading the Penguins to the Cup. Chris Osgood played 43 in his final Stanley Cup run with the Red Wings in 2008.
If Rinne is playing into June, there's a good chance he eclipses 90 games this season. Ninety. So yeah, we're forgiving him if he sleeps in a little bit.
"Guys who are very special at what they do, doesn't matter what field, they tend to be unique in some way. Years ago, Dominik Hasek was late for everything. He had no idea what time it was," Nashville's outstanding goalie coach Mitch Korn said. "Pek's not even close to being that bad. But he does have a tough time. He's not a morning person."
When the Predators discovered Rinne, he was a rarely used backup to Niklas Backstrom in Finland. In his final season before joining the organization in Milwaukee, Rinne played in 10 games. To his credit, he won eight of them. So there's not a ton of mileage on a 29-year-old who had to evolve into the workhorse he has become this season.
"Is it ideal that he played that much? Probably not," Korn said. "But I think he managed his game and his life. He doesn't have a busy life off the ice. There's not 500 endorsements. He takes time for himself and he manages his ice well."
Rinne has slowly grown into the player the Red Wings saw Wednesday night. The player they couldn't beat. So much has been made about the future of Suter and Shea Weber that we've almost forgotten that Rinne was the first of the core players to commit to the Predators long-term, signing on for $49 million for the next seven years.
But if it truly comes down to winning for Weber and Suter, Rinne might be GM David Poile's biggest weapon. Because he wasn't letting his team lose Game 1 against Detroit.
In the final moments of the postseason opener, with every star Mike Babcock could find sent out on the ice, Rinne calmly gloved a Red Wings shot. There was pandemonium all around. A screaming Predators fan base desperate to see the clock wind down. Paul Gaustad and Tomas Holmstrom shoving and wrestling in front of the crease. And Rinne conserving energy, waiting to make the next save.
"He's so athletic for a big guy. So quick," Klein said. "It's crazy. Just don't get him in the morning."
Making a number of miraculous saves in a Game 1 win against the Red Wings, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne showed once again that he can't be human.