Predators losing the 1 matchup they needed to win to take down Blackhawks

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CHICAGO — Pekka Rinne watched one more hard-fought night end with the rookie goaltender in the other net stealing the headlines.

But after the biggest win of his brief career, the Blackhawks' Scott Darling did his best to share the credit.

"Credit Rinne," he said after teammate Brent Seabrook beat Rinne with a slap shot from the high slot in triple-overtime to give Chicago a 3-2 win over Nashville and a 3-1 edge in their playoff series.

"He made some huge saves in overtime. A game like that, 50 shots apiece, and he's one of the best goalies in the world," Darling marveled a moment later. "It's fun to battle him."

It's been anything but fun for the Predators, who lost their second overtime game of the series, and the best one Rinne has played this postseason.

"He gave us a chance to win and that's all we can ask of him. It's our job to score goals," Predators defenseman Seth Jones said. "Through both overtimes, he gave us a chance to win."

The 32-year-old Finn started out the regular season looking very much like the perennial Vezina Trophy contender he's been the last few years, but he hit the skids as the playoffs neared. His position was the one matchup Nashville needed to win to stop the Blackhawks. But the tables turned when Darling replaced regular starter Corey Crawford and steadied the defense.

"That's a tough one to take," Rinne said afterward. "It's a good match-up, an entertaining game, too. It's up-and-down. Both teams have chances.

"But obviously, it's playoff time," he added softly. "Everything matters."

In addition to losing All-Star defenseman Shea Webber, the Predators played again without forward Mike Fisher, another costly loss in what turned out to be a marathon game. But Rinne wasn't interested in excuses.

"We had a lot of chances, they had some chances," he said. "It's just, OT games, it just happens like that. It's one shot and game over ... we've got to move on and get ready for Game 5."

The Blackhawks knew heading into the series they'd have to dent Rinne early on in the playoffs, considering his regular-season numbers — a 41-17-6 record and.923 save percentage. At 6-foot-5, he covers enough of the net to force shooters to pick their spots carefully. What the Blackhawks did instead was narrow their usually wide-open attack to take advantage of Webber's absence. They began packing bodies in front of Rinne instead.

Unless Nashville coach Peter Laviolette can come up with some counter moves — and soon — the series won't have much longer to run. If so, he was in no mood to share them.

"The game just ended," Laviolette said early Wednesday morning as the Predators locker room emptied out for the trip home. "There's no words after a triple overtime game. We'll take care of things tomorrow and we'll start the process back to Game 5.

"Like I said earlier," he concluded, "I have no doubt that our guys will be ready to play."

And it will have to start with the guy in the Nashville net.

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