Nashville has the momentum in the Stanley Cup final, evening the series with two consecutive wins. But two of the next three games go down in Pittsburgh, where goalie Rinne has struggled badly.
He’s back. Maybe!
Pekka Rinne was the No. 1 reason Nashville reached its first Stanley Cup final this spring. He posted a .940 save percentage across the first three rounds of the playoffs, including a .976 mark in the Predators’ sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks. Rinne was also the No. 1 reason Nashville lost Games 1 and 2 of the final against Pittsburgh. He posted a .778 SP as the Predators dropped two straight despite outshooting the Pens 64-39.
The series shifted home and ‘Good Rinne’ returned, stopping 50 of 52 shots for a .962 SP. He earned those numbers, too, thwarting plenty of high-quality chances and using his tremendous athleticism to scramble when Pittsburgh buzzed his crease. The only goal he surrendered in Game 4 was highly forgivable, a gorgeous Sidney Crosby breakaway finish, punctuated with a perfect fake.
So Rinne looks outstanding again. That’s amazing news for a Predators team that has outshot Pittsburgh in all four games of the final. It’s not unfathomable to imagine Nashville already owning the Stanley Cup if Rinne had been merely average in Games 1 and 2.
About Games 1 and 2, though. Rinne got rattled, and he happened to be on the road. He sparkled in Games 3 and 4, and he happened to be back home in rowdy, welcoming Bridgestone Arena. The crucial question entering Thursday’s Game 5: is Rinne truly back to form, or did he simply enjoy some home cookin’?
To answer it, we must determine whether Rinne’s road struggles so far in this final were trend or anomaly. He did open the playoffs with two straight shutouts on the road against Chicago in another tough building, but overall, he’s posted an .880 SP across 10 road outings this post-season. In 10 home games, he’s at .949. We’re thus seeing a very different Rinne at home than on the road. For every 30 shots he faces, he’s allowing roughly two more goals on the road.
Still, the sample size is relatively small. What about Rinne’s career playoff numbers?
On the road, he’s stopped 955 of 1,057 shots for a .904 lifetime post-season SP. At home: 873 saves on 935 shots for a .934 mark. Wow. That’s a double-stake stat right there.
If you want to expand the sample size even further to include his entire NHL career, regular season and playoffs combined: .911 on the road versus .923 at home.
With all that data in our pocket now, we can accurately say Rinne is not and has never been as good on the road. Pittsburgh’s probable Game 5 starter, Matt Murray, has almost dead-even career splits for save percentage at home and on the road in the regular season, and his .920 career road playoff mark isn’t far off his .927 home playoff SP.
That means the Preds, as much momentum as they might have right now, still have a hurdle to climb. They have to win at least one game in Pittsburgh if they want the Stanley Cup. Pekka Rinne has to play well at PPG Paints Arena at least once if he wants to win a championship.
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