Above all else, what has helped Pekka Rinne rise to the top of the list of Conn Smythe Trophy candidates this post-season has been his outstanding save percentage.
It began in the first round, when Rinne almost singlehandedly shut down the Chicago Blackhawks’ offense, stopping 123 of 126 shots and turning in a jaw-dropping .976 SP. Rinne’s stellar play continued into the second round, where he stopped all but 11 of the 162 shots he faced to post a .932 SP against the St. Louis Blues. In the Western Conference final, Rinne had some early trouble, but bounced back to make 172 saves on 186 shots for a .925 SP against the Anaheim Ducks. That resulted in Rinne entering the Stanley Cup final with a brick wall-esque .941 SP through 16 games.
If the Predators go on to win the Stanley Cup, though, the Nashville netminder might be hoping Conn Smythe voters ignore what happened in Game 1 as Rinne turned in what was statistically the worst game of his entire career.
Altogether, Rinne faced only 11 shots on Monday night as the Predators defense smothered the Penguins and shut down any chances Pittsburgh had offensively. However, an early scoring flurry — three goals in little more than four minutes, sparked by an Evgeni Malkin power play tally — saw the Penguins light the lamp three times on eight shots.
It would be hard to fault Rinne for the goals against. The Malkin shot was a cannon from the back end on a 5-on-3, a stoppable shot but one that came through with significant traffic in front. What followed was a beautiful slap pass from Chris Kunitz to Conor Sheary, who was left all alone to the right of Rinne. Sheary’s goal was unstoppable, though some might argue Rinne overcommitted to Kunitz’s shot. Still, Sheary shouldn’t have been left that open. And the third goal against, a fluky own-goal that came when Rinne turned aside a shot into the body of Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm, was the sign it was just that kind of night.
The fact remains, though, that when Jake Guentzel scored in the third frame on the Penguins’ first shot since the first period, Rinne had officially allowed four goals on nine shots and finished the game having allowed four of 11 shots to find twine.
The result was a .636 SP on the evening, which is notable in that in the NHL’s history of recorded playoff performances, Rinne’s stands as the worst ever when ranked by save percentage. No other goaltender to play 55-plus minutes has ever managed a mark worse than a .636 SP.
Rinne’s not the only goaltender to turn in an infamously poor playoff outing in recent memory, however. Here are the nine other netminders who fill out the list of the 10 worst statistical goaltending performances across a full game in the past 20 years, inspired by this list from Sheng Peng:
Roman Cechmanek, Philadelphia Flyers — April 9, 2003, vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Save Percentage: .714
Philadelphia came into the series as the favorites, but Ed Belfour made all the difference in the opening contest of the first-round matchup. The Flyers blasted 31 shots on ‘Eddie the Eagle’ and he stopped 28, while four of the 14 shots the Maple Leafs mustered on Cechmanek managed to get by. Similar to Rinne, Cechmanek surrendered a goal late in the third, with 5:39 remaining, that sealed the deal for the opposition. Cechmanek did, however, go on to backstop the Flyers to a seven-game series win.
Martin Gerber, Carolina Hurricanes — April 22, 2006, vs. Montreal Canadiens
Save Percentage: .714
Talk about a punishing defeat. The Canadiens scored early and often in Game 1 of the first round against the Hurricanes and Gerber manned the net for every single goal against. Even when it looked like Gerber was out of the woods late in the contest, he still managed to surrender one more goal when Sheldon Souray beat the Carolina keeper with 1:48 remaining.
The blowout loss led Gerber to have a short leash in Game 2, which resulted in him being pulled in favor of some kid named Cam Ward in the first period. Ward subsequently stole the series for Carolina and guided the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers — April 29, 2008, vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Save Percentage: .706
The Rangers were trying something, anything, to get back into their first-round series against the Penguins in 2008, and that meant dominating the play. New York outshot Pittsburgh 39 to 17, but Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall while Lundqvist wilted in the Blueshirts’ goal. Pittsburgh struck three times in the first, once in the second and put the final nail in the coffin 2:30 into the third period. Lundqvist bounced back with a shutout the next time out, but New York dropped the series in five games.
Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators — May 5, 2006, vs. Buffalo Sabres
Save Percentage: .696
A real throwback game between two run-and-gun teams in the Eastern Conference saw the Sabres out-duel the Senators to take Game 1 of the second-round series 7-6. The first, second and third period saw each team score two goals. However, it was a game the Senators almost pulled off. Up until the dying seconds, Ottawa had a 6-5 lead despite Emery’s poor showing. On the 22nd shot he faced, though, Emery was beaten by Tim Connolly. The goal came with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation and the winner came in overtime when Chris Drury scored 18 seconds into overtime on the Sabres’ 23rd shot of the night. Ottawa lost the series in five games.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks — May 22, 2011, vs. Vancouver Canucks
Save Percentage: .692
In Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference final, the Sharks absolutely fell apart. In under three minutes, San Jose took four penalties — high-sticking, hooking, too many men and a delay of game — to put the Canucks on an extended power play. And with the man advantage, Vancouver bombarded Niemi. In two minutes, the Canucks scored three power play goals and the contest ended with Niemi making only nine saves despite facing 13 shots in the contest. The result was a 4-2 loss for the Sharks and a 3-1 series deficit. In Game 5, Vancouver would wrap up the series and punch their ticket to the final.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils — May 4, 1999, vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Save Percentage: .692
Many would argue that there has never been a better big-game goaltender than Martin Brodeur. After all, he’s widely regarded as the greatest to ever take the net. However, there’s one incredibly forgettable Game 7 in Brodeur’s career, and that came in May 1999. In a game where the smothering, trap-style Devils dominated play, Brodeur faced only 13 shots against. Despite the great defense, though, Brodeur was beaten four times, including a late-third period tally that sealed the deal for Pittsburgh.
Ron Tugnutt, Ottawa Senators — May 9, 1998, vs. Washington Capitals
Save Percentage: .667
After losing Game 1 of the second round, Tugnutt and the Senators were looking to draw even in the series and played to near perfection through half the game. But when the wheels fell off, they really fell off. Brendan Witt started the scoring for the Capitals at the 9:46 mark of the second frame and Washington proceeded to put not two, not three, not four, not five but six (!) goals past Tugnutt by the time the game was through. Making matters worse, Tugnutt had only faced 18 shots on the night. It was clear then that the series had all the makings of a short one, and by Game 5, the Capitals had been sent packing and the Senators were moving on.
Vesa Toskala, San Jose Sharks — May 14, 2006, vs. Edmonton Oilers
Save Percentage: .667
One can’t help but wonder where the Sharks would have been had they ever had top-notch goaltending during their very best years. The fact is they certainly weren’t getting it when Toskala was in town. No game was more indicative of that than Game 5 of the second-round series in 2006. San Jose was trailing 2-1 entering the third period when Edmonton scored 12 seconds in to stretch the lead to 3-1. Seconds later, though, the Sharks answered back and they drew even only minutes after that. But then Toskala let San Jose down. In the 14 minutes after the Sharks tied the game, Toskala allowed three goals to finish with a mere 12 saves on 18 shots. It was the second-straight game he had allowed five or more goals against, and it was too late to recover. The Oilers ended the series in six games.
Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators — June 6, 2007, vs. Anaheim Ducks
Save Percentage: .667
Emery finds his way onto this list twice, but no single game is more forgettable than his performance in Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup final. With the Stanley Cup in the building, Emery was beaten six times on 18 shots, one of which was the infamous Chris Phillips own-goal, as the Senators lost in five games to the Ducks. Making matters worse is that it wasn’t as if Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastian Giguere was on his game during the outing. He allowed two goals against on 13 shots. If he would have been tested more, Ottawa very well could have made Game 5 that much closer. But the Ducks defense shut everything down, dominating the Senators’ shooters. The back-breaking goals against came in the third period. Travis Moen scored minutes into the frame, and Corey Perry put an exclamation point on Anaheim’s Stanley Cup victory when he scored with three minutes remaining.
Since the introduction of the save percentage statistics, Rinne’s performance in Game 1 is the only recorded outing that has ever been as bad or worse in the Stanley Cup final as Emery’s in Game 5 of the 2007 series.
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