DENVER – So much for Pekka Rinne’s relaxing night on the bench.
The Nashville Predators goaltender was summoned into unexpected duty early in the third period when his backup Anders Lindback was hurt on a collision.
Rinne quickly settled into a groove and picked up right where Lindback left off.
The goaltending duo combined to stop 44 shots and lift the playoff-bound Predators to a 6-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Rinne didn’t mind the extra work, even if he was enjoying his rare time on the bench, where he joked around with his teammates. He was far more concerned with the condition of Lindback, who collided with Cody McLeod after scrambling back to the net.
“It’s always unfortunate when you see your partner get a little bit banged up and he has to come out,” Rinne said. “That was just the situation. The only thing I’m worried about is Lindy. Hopefully that was just something minor and he’s fine. That’s my biggest worry.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz didn’t think Lindback’s upper-body injury was serious and listed him day to day.
“It was disappointing (he didn’t finish),” Trotz said. “Anders played well for us early. He made some big saves.”
Other than that, everything went quite smoothly for the Predators.
Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand, Craig Smith, Roman Josi, Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk all had goals for Nashville, which clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference before the game when Central Division rival Detroit lost to Chicago in a shootout.
The Predators open the playoffs next week by hosting the Red Wings.
“Can’t wait to start,” said Rinne, who had 10 saves in just over 17 minutes of work.
With nothing more to gain in the season finale, the Predators rested some of their regulars, including forwards Sergei Kostitsyn, Martin Erat and Mike Fisher.
In all, the team benched a combined 65 goals, but it hardly mattered as their offence didn’t miss a beat as 12 different Predators had at least a point.
Even more, this contest got some players back on track. Legwand scored his first goal in nine games, while Smith also ended a long scoring drought. Josi, a defenceman, even got into the act, sending a wrist shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere for his first goal since Feb. 27.
“We’ve got a lot of depth here. We can score on all cylinders, which is nice,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys going right now, which is a good feeling. Anyone who’s in, we’re comfortable with.”
Nashville finished with 104 points this season, marking the fourth time in franchise history the team has eclipsed the century barrier. But here’s a first: The Predators finally finished ahead of Detroit in the division.
“They’re a solid team and obviously a big rival,” said Yip, who scored a third-period goal against his former team. “It will be a great series.”
Matt Duchene scored the lone goal for an Avalanche team that struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs for a second straight season.
Colorado was officially eliminated from post-season contention on Thursday night with a 5-2 loss to last-place Columbus. In contention down the stretch, the Avalanche dropped six of their last seven to seal their fate.
They now head into the off-season with quite a few decisions to make. First and foremost, whether to bring back coach Joe Sacco, who’s in the final year of his contract.
Want to return next season?
“It is not the time to talk about my situation. I would rather talk about the team,” Sacco said.
The Avalanche may be saying farewell to captain Milan Hejduk. He’s maintained for days that he’s on the fence about returning for a 14th season.
Just in case he doesn’t return, the team recognized Hejduk, one of the last remaining links to the Stanley Cup days, by playing a video tribute in the first period. Hejduk ranks second in franchise history in games (991). He’s also among the team’s all-time leaders in goals (371), points (794) and assists (423).
“I haven’t made up my mind,” Hejduk said after the game. “This was a disappointing way to end the year. … We’re disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs.”
Although Nashville was hitting on all cylinders most of the evening, Trotz was still a little displeased with the effort. He thought the Predators were a little too loose for his liking, especially with the playoffs around the corner.
“We gave up 45 shots. You don’t want to go into the playoffs like that,” Trotz said. “We had some guys that took the night off, which I didn’t like. We were a little bit too casual.”
NOTES: The Avalanche gave D Shane O’Brien the night off, along with forwards Kevin Porter and Steve Downie. … As part of “Fan Appreciation Night,” Colorado players gave game-worn jerseys to selected patrons after the contest. … Colorado finished 22-17-2 at Pepsi Center. … Nashville was 4-0 against Colorado this season.