TERESA M. WALKER,AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The break in the NHL playoff schedule is giving Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne a little rest. Now his teammates want to give him a chance to catch his breath against the Detroit Red Wings.
Rinne can use the break.
He has stopped 35 or more shots in each Nashville win and is the main reason the Predators are up 3-1 in the first-round Western Conference series, putting the Red Wings on the brink of elimination.
“He seems to be on top of the game when he gets a lot of shots,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said of Rinne. “We don’t want to give up that many shots.”
Rinne wasn’t the only player taking a break Wednesday, both the Predators and the Red Wings took the extra time to regroup before Friday night’s Game 5. But Rinne may have needed the day off the most after stopping the first 29 shots he faced in a 3-1 win Tuesday night.
“We got outplayed the first two periods and just kind of hung around,” Nashville center David Legwand said. “We hung around, and Pekka kept us in it. We came up big in the third period. That’s fortunate for us. We’re OK with that. He did a great job for us.”
Legwand said Pekka has been the difference in the series.
The Red Wings agree.
They have peppered Rinne with pucks from the start. Not that facing shots bothers Rinne after facing more during the regular season than any other goalie in the league. He has made saves of 35 and 41 before making 40 more Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory, stopping 130 of the 138 shots faced in this series for a .942 save percentage.
Now the Predators want to spend more time on the other end of the ice to keep the Red Wings from peppering their 6-foot-5 goalie more and give him a little rest.
“They were shooting until their arms got tired last night in the first two periods,” Legwand said. “We kind of settled down a little bit in the third and things were pretty even. But being in their end and winning more draws and doing those things will help us a little bit.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said they don’t want to give up as many chances as they did. Staying out of the penalty box will be key after the Predators put Detroit on the power play seven times with the Red Wings’ lone goal coming on the man advantage.
“That’s discipline and details,” Trotz said.
The Predators have given Rinne some defensive help. Mike Fisher cleared away a puck before it crossed the line Tuesday night with the Predators blocking 16 shots. Klein used his stick to swipe a puck away in Game 3 when Nashville blocked 19 shots. Captain Shea Weber played 31 minutes, 20 seconds Tuesday night, while defenseman Ryan Suter was on the ice 30 minutes, 41 seconds.
Trotz said that made having a day off Wednesday key for more than just Rinne.
“Just because you spend a lot of time in your own end with the penalty kills we’ve had to kill them off,” Trotz said. “Those are taxing on your top players. That taxes the (Martin) Erats, the Fishers, the Webers, the Suters, the Kleins, the (Roman) Josis. They all get taxed pretty heavily, and obviously, Pekka in net. Getting couple days off will probably do us a world of good.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock gave his Red Wings a day off Wednesday as well, hoping for a chance to regroup. The Red Wings are facing their earliest elimination since 2006 when they were ousted in the first round by Edmonton in six games. They have lost seven of their last 10 games overall with two of the wins coming by shootout in the regular season.
“You can’t keep playing like this, having the puck all the time, and have the other team beat you,” Babcock said after the game.
Finding a weak spot for Rinne would help. But he was a Vezina Trophy finalist a year ago and finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy before leading the NHL with 43 wins this season so his performance in this series isn’t just a case of a goalie getting hot. That’s why Nashville gave him a seven-year, $49 million contract in November.
“You’ve got to continue to get pucks at the net,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You can’t shy away from that. I think we’ve got to get even more traffic in front and get some of those second chances. We talked about that but he’s playing real well for them. We have to score some goals.”
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