Every indication at Saturday's morning skate pointed toward goaltender Pekka Rinne starting for the Nashville Predators in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, but coach Peter Laviolette refused to confirm that, just as he has since he pulled a flailing Rinne from the team's 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2.
Laviolette twice responded by saying "next question" when he was asked specifically about his goaltending plans and in general about lineup changes. However, he did reply to a general question about what Rinne has meant to the Predators, who will take a 7-1 home record into Saturday night's game at Bridgestone Arena.
"He's been the backbone of our team," Laviolette said. "Whenever there's any adversity, Pekka has always faced it. Had a terrific regular season, got us to this point through the regular season, comes into the playoffs, has had a terrific run. There's a lot of confidence, not only with our team, but also with Pekka."
Speculation about Rinne's possible benching has taken on a life of its own. His excellence got the Predators here, and there's little reason for them to switch at this critical moment, as they prepare for their first-ever Cup Final home game and try to cut into Pittsburgh's 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. However, Laviolette has a history of switching goalies during the playoffs in his previous coaching stops, in Carolina and Philadelphia, so a switch is a possibility.
Rinne left the ice before his backup, Juuse Saros, the typical protocol for the goalie who will start later that day. Saros was relaxed and laughing in the locker room, hardly the demeanor of someone entrusted to start what truly is the team's biggest game of the season.
It appeared that Laviolette planned to make changes among his forwards by taking tough guy Cody McLeod and veteran center Vernon Fiddler out of the lineup and replacing them with right wing P.A. Parenteau and left wing Harry Zolnierczyk. The penalty-prone McLeod was too slow to keep up in fast-paced games, and Fiddler wasn't effective in limited duty.
"I'm going to keep it simple. I haven't played in a little while here, coming in the Stanley Cup Final like that, but I'll have enough adrenaline and confidence in myself to play a good game," said Parenteau, who last played on May 18 in Game 4 of the Predators' six-game elimination of the Ducks in the Western Conference finals and played in only three of Nashville's 18 playoff contests. "I just want to contribute, help the team, do what I can do."
Parenteau said in watching the first two games of the Final the Predators had played "some pretty good hockey." He added, "But at the same time, we are down 2-0, which is pretty frustrating. They've had stretches where they've scored a lot of goals in a short amount of time and we have to avoid that at any cost tonight. That's a killer for us .… This is a huge game for us."
Predators players said they were looking forward to the reception they'll get from their fans, whose frenzy has been escalating as the team has progressed in the playoffs. Regular-season games here are very loud and energetic, so there's no telling what decibel levels fans might reach Saturday night.
"Oh, it will be loud, really loud," defenseman Roman Josi said. "From the second round to the third round we thought they couldn't be any louder, and then they got louder in the third round. I'm excited to see how the fans are going to be tonight and we know it's going to be loud and they're going to be behind us."
Parenteau agreed. "It's going to get pretty crazy," he said. "Every round we saw a huge difference. The whole state is behind us now and there will be so many people outside the rink. It's going to be fun. I've seen it in the stands when I wasn't playing and it's crazy, it gets so loud. I expect something special tonight."
Only one team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Cup Final, when the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to defeat the Detroit Red Wings. The 1975 Islanders, 2010 Flyers and 2014 Kings overcame 3-0 deficits in earlier playoff rounds.