Nashville coach Trotz raises the bar for Rinne

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maybe Predators coach Barry Trotz just doesn't want his goalie to feel too satisfied.

He witnessed what appeared to be his team's psychological letdown after winning Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Chicago, and maybe Trotz wants to keep his foot to the proverbial pedal.

That would be one explanation as to why he said Wednesday that he has seen better play from Pekka Rinne, who is leading all players at his position in the playoffs in goals-against average (1.35) and save percentage (.953).

But then again maybe it is possible that he has seen the 27-year-old rookie from Finland somehow stronger in net.

"No, I've seen Pekks play better," Trotz said. "I've seen him go for long stretches where he's absolutely dominant. I have seen him play better, yeah."

Well, if Rinne hasn't been absolutely dominant, he's quite close. He has lost one game in this series that Nashville – perhaps to the surprise of most except for those within their organization – leads 2-1 entering Game 4 on Thursday night. But even in that game, he allowed only two goals -- one on a power play in which the Blackhawks, in a bit of a scramble situation, moved the puck around quickly in front of the net to an open Dave Bolland for the score; the other on an odd-man rush by talented Patrick Kane, who had all the time in the world to pick his spot before ripping a wrist shot.

"He's been awesome," said Kane, who is leading Chicago in scoring with a pair of goals and an assist. "He's been really good. But at the same time we're not really getting much traffic on him and much quality opportunities. So we have to do a better job at that."

Seemingly always uncomfortable with talking about himself and more at ease speaking about team play, Rinne was not quite sure how to appraise his performance so far.

"I don't know, I feel good about myself," he said. "I think guys feel pretty good about themselves. I don't want to go far ahead. I just want to keep playing well and do my job, give everything I have every night. That's all I can do. But yeah, I feel confident. I feel good."

In holding the Blackhawks at bay, Rinne was quick with his glove, smothered almost all rebounds -- and in one of his better saves in the first period of Game 3, showed that he could go post-to-post, moving to his right to get a piece of a shot that was labeled for the corner.

When his play is as sharp as it has been, he said communication with the Predators' goalie coach Mitch Korn is kept mostly to a minimum.

"I think it's more just mental," Rinne said of his work with Korn. "Just kind of, I guess, he's just trying to keep my head straight. Nothing too special. Just going through the games and going through some of the chances, some of the saves, some of the goals. It's just pretty typical stuff, nothing too crazy. Nothing technique-wise. Just kind of going through the games."

About the only thing that Rinne has not done well in this series was his play of the puck early in Game 3. On Nashville's first power play, a hard shot in Chicago's end came careening all the way back into the Preds' zone. Under pressure from Chicago's John Madden, one of the game's top penalty-killers, Rinne intended to backhand the puck to safety behind the net. However, the puck hit the boards and came right back out in front -- and Rinne had to dive back into the crease to prevent a goal just 6:20 into the game.

Trotz said that Rinne generally plays the puck well but that the play gave him a "heart attack." Nonetheless, he chose not to address the subject with Rinne.

"I think he got surprised," Trotz said. The puck "wouldn't sit down on him. The guy was on him and he [went through] a little bit of panic. He got the jitters out quickly and he came back with a big save on Kris Versteeg and he went from there."

Rinne said that he recognized that "it would've been an extremely bad start if something like that would've happened," meaning a goal. He said better communication with his defense could have avoided what was nearly a costly mistake.

"I've seen Pekks play better. I've seen him go for long stretches where he's absolutely dominant. I have seen him play better, yeah." -- Barry Trotz

"Luckily we got a little bit lucky there and nothing happened there," he said. "Just one of those things you put it behind you. But that's one of those things, too -- you can't stop playing the puck and think about it too much and you have to know what you're going to do. Then everything happens smoothly. When you're in between [decisions] things like that happen."

So far that's how it's gone for Rinne – a bit of luck but also making his own. And like all goalies at the top of their game, he has quickly forgotten goals or mistakes so that he's mentally ready to make the next save. His next task is to win Game 4 on Thursday.

Can he be better? His coach thinks so.