Niskanen, Penguins spoil Rinne’s return to Predators’ net

The Predators' Pekka Rinne lost in his return to the Nashville net.

John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images


Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the game 7:29 into the third period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game skid.

Niskanen and the Penguins helped ruin the return of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in his first game since Oct. 22 following an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip.

Chris Kunitz scored a goal, and Sidney Crosby had three assists to add to his NHL-leading point total. The Penguins have not lost more than three straight this season.

Patric Hornqvist scored for Nashville, which has lost two consecutive games. Rinne made 16 saves.

The Penguins took the lead for good during a power play after David Legwand was called for hooking Kunitz. Crosby found Niskanen for a slap shot that went under Rinne’s glove.

Rinne had surgery on his hip on May 9 and needed a second surgery because of the infection of Oct. 24. He returned to practice two weeks ago and rejoined the Predators on Monday after stopping 33 of 35 shots in a two-game conditioning stint in Milwaukee.

Fans welcomed him back with a huge roar during introductions and chanted his name after his first big save. Crosby sent a cross-ice pass to Kunitz that Rinne blocked by sticking out his right pad. The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist also stopped Kunitz again on a breakaway later in the first period.

Nashville thought it had a 1-0 lead when Paul Gaustad had the puck go off his right shin past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury off a rebound of a shot by Nick Spaling. But after a long review, officials disallowed the goal because of a distinct kicking motion by Gaustad.

The Penguins scored first when Crosby skated around the net and found Niskanen in the right circle for a one-timer that squeezed between Rinne and the post 27 seconds into the second. Nashville answered 12 seconds later as Hornqvist’s wrister off a rebound beat Fleury.

Pittsburgh sealed the win when Crosby fed Kunitz in the slot for a slap shot with 17:05 left. It was the 28th goal this season for Kunitz and the 200th of his career, giving the large contingent of Penguins’ fans plenty to celebrate.

NOTES: Penguins forward Chuck Kobasew played his 600th NHL game after being placed on waivers Monday. … Predators coach Barry Trotz is 6-3-1 in Nashville against the Penguins. … Hornqvist has two goals and four assists in his eight games. … Predators forward Colin Wilson fought with Robert Bortuzzo in the final minute of the first period, earning his first fighting major since Oct. 20, 2011, at Vancouver.