As the great Carl Landra once said, “Pekka Rinne is not that good and the Chicago Blackhawks have quite the scoring depth!” Well after their first playoff sweep in Nashville history, it appears otherwise. Conceding a mere three goals against one of the leagues highest scoring teams, Rinne was important to this success. Sharp and focused from game 1 onwards, the Finn was like a wall in net.
Facing over 125 shots in this series, Rinne read each one like a book. Posting a record of 31-19-9 during the regular season, the 34-year-old’s contribution was overlooked. Nashville barely scraped into the playoffs and many expected them to be cannon fodder. This sweep shows that it is time for Tennessee hockey fans to get excited. Chicago has been served a reminder of their own mortality.
However, a closer look is needed. Was it just Rinne who was responsible for this miraculous event? Of course not, Nashville finally has a great blueline. Trading for P.K. Subban was a smart move, although Shea Weber is still missed. Along with fellow D-men, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, the trio kept Chicago contained. The scoring touch of Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson was also essential.
Shifting Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen also paid off big time. Johansen has emerged as the most potent offensive threat. With six points to his name, he might not have the numbers of Evgeni Malkin but he is turning heads. Nashville has a team that is rough around the edge but is beginning to even out. Where would this all be without Rinne though?
The Blackhawks finished comfortably top in the west. They were playing full of their usual swagger and scoring for fun. After being roughed up at home during games 1 & 2, their confidence seemed to bottom out. Rinne took his chance with both hands, and nothing could get by him. This kind of performance was what gave the team a lift. Knowing you have a great shot-stopper is a key booster.
Nashville rode the wave well during this series. They almost looked as if they and Chicago had changed places. Rinne showed no fear of a first round loss. Compared to multi-Cup winning Corey Crawford, he looked like a real winner. Having the blue-line support no doubt had an effect. Rinne was the real strong link of this series and blanking the likes of Kane, Keith and Toews is no small matter.
Without throwing around Conn Smyth predictions just yet, Pekka Rinne deserves big credit. For years he has been the lone star player that the Preds possessed. You can sense that Rinne feels this is Nashville’s year. They might not have the same kind of scoring touch as teams like Pittsburgh but what they do have is good depth and now very high spirits. Is Rinne an elite goalie? At this point not yet, by the end of the playoffs he might well be!