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Pekka Rinne ousts Ducks with steady, calm Game 7 performance

ANAHEIM, Calif. – David Poile walked into the Nashville Predators locker room after his team ousted the Anaheim Ducks from the playoffs with a series-clinching Game 7 first-round win.

There, he found goaltender Pekka Rinne standing in the middle of the room and gave the sweaty Rinne an embrace. It was a gesture of thanks from the longtime GM  for the netminder’s steady heroics in the most important of the series – the first Game 7 in Nashville’s team history.

Rinne made 36 saves on 37 Ducks shots on goal in the 2-1 win. He helped the Predators survive a 28 shot on goal onslaught from the Ducks in the final two periods, when Nashville could only muster 10 shots on goal in the same timeframe.

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After the game the Predators clearly recognized that Rinne was the main reason why they were moving onto the second-round of the playoffs to face the San Jose Sharks.  

“He was amazing I thought. He had some really big saves and had a lot of pucks. They shot a lot of pucks on net and a couple of scrums. It was really strong,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “I’ve seen the guy make some unbelievable saves and since I came here has been so huge for this organization and been huge for us this whole series.”

Throughout his career Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, has been known for spectacular saves, stretching and contorting his 6-foot-5 frame with agility and grace. On Wednesday he was more consistent than extraordinary. The only goal he let in was a power play score by Ryan Kesler on a point-blank tic-tac-toe play where he had almost no chance.

Everything else he mostly swallowed up. 

“You try to stay calm. When you start thinking about Game 7 before the game it’s a first Game 7 for all of us in this franchise, myself personally so you think about it and are a little bit nervous before the game,” Rinne said. “Obviously getting the first couple of shots and making a few good saves, you start feeling it and getting some confidence.”

Going into this series it was unclear if Rinne’s presence in net was a strength for Nashville or an undercover weakness. He had a 2.48 goal-against average and .908 save percentage in 66 games played this year. Since 2012-13 his only solid year was last season when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. Besides that season a lot of his game had been inconsistent. 

In Rinne’s three losses he was mediocre with a .857 save percentage. But when the Predators needed him to step up, he did so in a big way the last two games, allowing two goals on 64 shots on goal to cap a series comeback from down 3-2. 

“I mean over the years he’s made some huge acrobatic saves, but he was just really solid (tonight)” said Predators defenseman Shea Weber, a longtime teammate of Rinne's in Nashville. “He made all the saves he needed to and didn’t get himself into too much trouble and was a big reason we were able to win tonight.” 

Late in the first period with the Ducks down 2-0, Rinne stopped Anaheim forward Jakob Silfverberg in front on an open backhand opportunity.

In the third period he made two big stops on sniper Corey Perry and several saves in the final minutes, withstanding a furious Ducks attempted rally.

“He was great. He settles it down, gives us the confidence,” forward Mike Fisher said. “We had a good, solid defensive effort. Obviously he was the biggest part of that. He played unbelievable.”

The next round, Rinne will face arguably a tougher test, and a hotter team in the San Jose Sharks. The team can roll four lines, three defense pairs and has one of the playoffs’ top trios in Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. 

In the Sharks’ five-game ouster of the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round, many of San Jose’s chances came from the interior – a location on the ice Nashville did a solid job defending in the last two games of the series.

San Jose’s style is comparable to the Ducks’ which means the Predators could employ a similar strategy. And if they do, they know they have the right guy in net to stop the Sharks.

“They provide a similar challenge as Anaheim,” Rinne said. “ Their top players are some of the top players in the league and really dangerous individuals and their power play is really good and very similar to me at least.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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