NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If there’s one thing that the Nashville Predators have been known for on the ice in just over 1,000 NHL games, it’s goaltending. That chain started with Tomas Vokoun, and the tradition has continued through to Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne.
And at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night, Vokoun – Predators past turned Washington Capitals present – and Rinne put on a show. Amid some uneven, downright ugly play on both sides, the goalies made saves of the routine and spectacular variety in what ended as a 3-1 Predators victory.
“It’s never easy against one of the better goalies in the league. It’s always tough – and one of the better teams in the league too, Washington has a great team,” said Rinne, who finished with 39 saves. “It showed we were a desperate team; we really wanted this game.”
The Caps at times struggled with a defensive-minded Nashville team featuring a stingy style and defensemen like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. For long stretches, the disciplined Predators dictated the tempo, making for some less-than-enthralling hockey. It was pretty for fans in gold and blue but didn’t lead to any offense, as Vokoun showed off perhaps his best lateral movement of the season.
Vokoun’s best save of 28 came when he rejected Mike Fisher on a short-handed breakaway in the second.
When Washington turned up the pressure, Rinne was here there and just about everywhere. Often, he didn’t even need to see a shot to turn it away.
He stopped Marcus Johansson with a behind-the-back save as the puck somehow didn’t make it over the goal line. Minutes later, following a Vokoun robbery, Rinne reached up and made yet another big glove save, this time on Alex Ovechkin.
“He’s great goalie. He’s big and he use his size,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes just we have opportunities to score goals, but he stays in net.
It was one of those games that seemed more fit for April, May or June – shooters unable to break through on two hot goaltenders. Vokoun flashed the kind of play that made him the Predators‘ first real star; Rinne flashed the kind of play that earned him a monster, seven-year $49 million deal.
Eventually, something had to go in the net, and the two teams went goal-for-goal in the waning minutes just as their goalies went save-for-save for most of the night. Troy Brouwer went high stick side to beat Rinne with 4:46 left. Just 28 seconds later, a gorgeous pass from Weber to Martin Erat turned it into a tie game.
“Their goalie played great; our goalie played very well,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Then once we scored, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.
A textbook forecheck and passing play with 24.3 seconds left zapped the Caps of a point. Colin Wilson controlled the puck in the offensive zone, then got into perfect position when Erat possessed it behind the net. With Dennis Wideman and John Erskine unable to guard either, Vokoun had no chance, as Wilson took a hit to give Nashville the victory.
The Predators now have points in nine of 11 games, and on this night could thank their goalie for two more.
“It made my job way easier when our guys battle in front of me,” Rinne said. “When there was a breakdown I was able to make a few good stops.”