NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Pekka Rinne kept trying to talk Tuesday night, only to be interrupted again and again. First by fans chanting “MVP, MVP” and then by a teammate kidding him in the locker room.
Nothing shakes the Predators goaltender these days.
Rinne made a season-high 42 saves, and the Predators extended their winning streak to a season-best six straight games by beating the San Jose Sharks 5-1 Tuesday night.
“There was times when he really just stood on his head,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said of Rinne. “There was a flurry on the power play there for San Jose where he made three or four unbelievable stops in a row, and even one after the whistle for good measure. But he was great. Got a couple standing ovations from our crowd … and deservedly so. He really played great.”
Rinne now leads the NHL with 34 wins, and he is 15-1-1 in his last 17 games. He said Nashville’s fans are the best and their chants sometimes give him goose bumps.
“Other than that, you just stay focused and just worry about that next shot,” Rinne said. “You don’t want to get caught with making a highlight save and then kind of stop playing, so that’s the last mistake I want to make.”
No chance of that Tuesday night with the Predators giving him plenty of support, scoring five unanswered goals for the win. Craig Smith scored twice, and Shea Weber scored and had an assist. Paul Gaustad and James Neal each had a goal, Mike Ribeiro had two assists as the Predators padded their lead atop the NHL standings to 84 points, six ahead of Montreal and St. Louis.
Matt Irwin scored for San Jose. The Sharks, losers of two straight, are 1-4-1 with the Kings looming Saturday at Levi’s Stadium.
“We’ve still got to clean up a lot of things defensively,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
An ice storm that hit Tennessee on Monday left thousands without power and area roads either closed or covered with crashes Tuesday morning. With the season winding down and the Sharks already in town, they had no choice but to play as scheduled.
The Predators thanked 8,215 fans who came out by giving them half-price sodas and beer into the first intermission, with popcorn free all night. The NHL’s best team on home ice made it worth the trip, improving to 25-3-1 in Nashville.
The Sharks scored first, taking advantage of a breakdown with Irwin skating up the slot for a wrist shot that beat Rinne 5:26 in. That was it for San Jose.
Nashville scored the next five goals, starting with Weber on a slap shot from the point off a faceoff. Then Smith gave Nashville a 2-1 lead when he batted the puck into the net.
The Predators took control in the opening minutes of the second. Smith scored his second of the game and 17th this season with a wrister on the power play 52 seconds into the period. Gaustad made it 4-1 just 51 seconds later with his own wrist shot.
San Jose went on the man advantage at 2:14, and Rinne first stopped Logan Couture at the left post before diving back to his right and stopping a shot by Joe Pavelski off his mask, with the puck bouncing around Rinne’s arms.
Officials reviewed the sequence and ruled no goal. By the time the Predators finished the killing the penalty, fans serenaded Rinne with their first of a couple “MVP” chants.
“Offensively, we had chances and got outplayed,” Sharks goalie Alex Stalock said. “Goaltending wins.”
Neal became the first of the Predators to reach 20 goals this season with a wrister from the left circle midway in the second period.
That was more than enough for Rinne.
Notes: Defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli officially were scratched by Nashville as they finish up paperwork following Sunday’s trade with Toronto, hoping to join the Predators in New York. … The Predators are 17-11-2 when the opponent scores first. … Neal now has seven straight seasons with at least 20 goals.
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