NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the guy on the other side.
That’s something the Wild have had to do time and time again when they have played against Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne at his home rink.
While the 36-year-old Rinne always seems off his game in St. Paul, he’s almost always lights out when the Wild come to town.
That trend continued Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena as the Wild struggled to solve Rinne yet again in a 4-0 loss to the Predators. Rinne has started 20 games against the Wild at home in his career and has allowed one goal or fewer in 10 of those games.
It was clear from the onset that Rinne was on his game. He made a handful of impressive saves early on, including thwarting a Luke Kunin shot from in close to keep the game scoreless.
“We played a solid 20 minutes,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It would’ve been nice to get one in the first period and put them on their heels.”
Instead, the Predators entered the locker room feeling good about themselves, thanks in large part to Rinne, and it felt like only a matter of time before the game started to even out.
That’s exactly what happened as winger Miikka Salomaki scored on a delayed penalty 37 seconds into the second period to make it 1-0.
“It’s pretty deflating,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s no doubt. That was probably our best period of hockey in this building in a long time, and once they scored the goal, we sort of slumped.”
It raises the question: How does something like that happen? How does a team that played so well for 20 minutes go into a shell for the ensuing 40 minutes?
“That’s a good question,” Suter said. “I think they came out with more of a push (in the second period), and we were ready for that. They were just able to get one by us, and then we were kind of on our heels.”
That much was clear as the Wild failed to generate many scoring chances themselves, and even when they did, such as when Jason Zucker had a chance to tie the game with a one-timer from in close, they couldn’t convert.
Fittingly, shortly after Zucker missed his scoring chance, winger Calle Jarnkrok made it 2-0 with less than 30 seconds left in the frame. He collected a pass on the rush and fired a snipe through a screen to beat Alex Stalock.
“Obviously that one in the last 30 seconds isn’t ideal,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “Trying to go into the third period thinking we’re going to be down by one goal and it ends up being by two goals. It’s a lot harder to come back from. That’s for sure.”
It got worse for the Wild in the third period, as winger Craig Smith made it 3-0 with an easy goal from alone in front, and center Colton Sissons scored shorthanded to finalize the score at 4-0.
“It was a winnable game,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t stay with it.”
Rinne did stay with it, continuing his stellar play the rest of the way and finishing with 26 saves to secure the shutout.
“There were parts of the (game) that were good,” Suter said. “It just sucks when you don’t score.”