Pekka Rinne‘s streak of 89 consecutive postseason starts ended Sunday when Juuse Saros made 33 saves for the Nashville Predators in a 4-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place.
Game 2 of the best-of-5 series is in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Tuesday (2:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360, FS-TN, FS-A PLUS). The series winner advances to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I can’t answer (who will start Game 2) but I liked his game,” Predators coach John Hynes said of Saros. “He had some situations where I thought he stayed mentally focused. He had some big saves throughout the game. I liked his response after the first couple. The third one, he had nothing to do with it, it was just a breakdown in coverage.”
That was when Coyotes forward Clayton Keller, who had room in the slot, scored a power-play goal for a 3-0 lead at 15:42 of the first period.
“As the game went on, he made saves we needed him to make,” Hynes said. “And when we made a good push, he kept it at four and we were able to keep pecking away from the score, and that’s what you want from your goaltender.”
Rinne’s streak began with a 4-1 win at the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 16, 2010. It’s the fourth-longest in NHL history by a goalie for one team behind Martin Brodeur (194 with the New Jersey Devils from 1994-2012), Patrick Roy (133 with the Colorado Avalanche from 1996-2003) and Henrik Lundqvist (128 with the New York Rangers since 2006).
Dan Ellis had been the last Predators goalie to start a postseason game, a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Nashville in Game 6 of the conference quarterfinals April 20, 2008.
“We make sure that we treat all our players honestly and direct,” Hynes said. [Pekka] is no different. He obviously has [had] a tremendous career. He’s a huge, important part of our team. He’s part of the organization, has been and always will be. He’ll be a key part in this postseason for us. It was just a very direct, honest conversation. He’s a great pro, and we have two real good guys who can help us win games.”
Rinne was 18-14-4 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in 36 games (35 starts), the worst statistics in his 12 full NHL seasons. Saros was 17-12-4 with a 2.70 GAA and .914 save percentage in 40 games (34 starts). He played seven playoff games in the past three seasons, all in relief of Rinne.
“It doesn’t change our mindset,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Obviously [Pekka] has done unbelievable things for this organization. It’s [Saros’] shot now. I thought he played terrific. There were some tough bounces out there that led to goals and there were a lot of great shots by Arizona, and [Saros] was there with some big saves. They have some great talent on the other side. He played amazing for us and gave us a real shot to win this game.”
The winner of the best-of-5 series between the No. 6 seed Predators and No. 11 seed Coyotes will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loser will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Aug. 10.