NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Pekka Rinne didn’t make a save or even get into uniform, but the mere presence of the minor league goalie gave the Nashville Predators plenty of motivation.
Dan Ellis made 37 saves and then was perfect in the shootout, leading the Predators to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
Rinne, who has been playing for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, was scheduled to start against the Blackhawks but he had trouble making airplane connections and arrived about an hour before the game. His equipment was still in transit.
“The coaches said they needed someone to make big saves,” Ellis said. “They needed someone to erase mistakes up front. That was our approach going in.
“As goaltenders we have taken a lot of criticism. It’s a team game, but all of a sudden it became an individual sport. A lot of fingers were being pointed at us. It was motivating, disheartening and frustrating that they felt the need to call up Pekka.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz stressed that the addition of Rinne had nothing to do with trying to motivate anyone.
“This was done to get results,” Trotz said. “Both of our goaltenders knew Friday that they weren’t going to be starting. Pekka will remain on the roster. We are in a time where we need to get solid goaltending. We needed solid goaltending, and we got it from Ellis.”
The Predators’ only goal in regulation was scored by Jason Arnott at 5:24 of the first period. The Blackhawks tied it on a goal by Andrew Ladd at 14:42.
Neither team scored again, setting the stage for two unexpected heroes in the shootout.
Rich Peverley opened the shootout for the Predators. It was his first NHL attempt and he scored by going high against Nikolai Khabibulin. Patrick Kane had opened the shootout with a goal against Ellis, a backhander to his glove side.
Alexander Radulov scored what proved to be the deciding goal. He faked a high shot and then put the puck between Khabibulin’s legs. He had missed on his previous seven attempts this season.
Trotz credited goalie coach Mitch Korn for the Predators’ shootout success.
“We had a really good scouting report,” Trotz said. “Mitch put something together on Khabibulin and he shared that with everyone. We were able to take what we knew and make it work for us.
“Sooner or later I knew Radulov was going to score in a shootout. We are going to need his hands and his shootout ability down the stretch.”
The win ended a six-game home losing string for the Predators. The Predators are 3-5 in shootouts this season.
“We’ve had some tough losses, and getting a win at home was really exciting,” Trotz said. “It feels good to get back in the dressing room and find that you are only two points out of the race. That’s a pretty good motivating factor.”
Arnott put the Predators on the board first at 5:24 of the first period. J.P Dumont skated from behind the net and passed the puck to Shea Weber who was skating low through the slot. Khabibulin blocked Weber’s shot. Arnott skated in from the left side and used a wrist shot to send the rebound between the post and Khabibulin.
Ladd tied it at 14:42. His wrist shot from a few feet went in low to the glove side of Ellis who stretched, but was unable to reach it.
“Khabibulin kept us in the first couple of periods and in the third Ellis kept them in,” Ladd said. “That’s the way it goes.”
The Blackhawks outshot the Predators 38-34 overall. The Predators didn’t commit a penalty, and Chicago was whistled for four.
“I’m proud of our guys because they came to work,” Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. “It was a strong effort and that is all that you can ask. We had plenty of chances to get plenty of goals. When you get 38 shots with no power play you’ve done something pretty good.”
Notes: The Predators are 31-5-4 when scoring the first goal. … The Blackhawks had beaten the Predators four straight games. Weber has assists in three straight games for the Predators.