Rinne, surging Panthers to host slumping Blues

As his NHL career continues, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is starting to pile up the milestones.

First came his 500th career game last March in Washington. On Thursday night, Rinne notched his 300th career victory with a 7-1 rout of San Jose, making 33 saves and then shedding tears afterward when accorded a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.

Rinne will get a chance to start on his next 300 wins Sunday when Nashville hosts the skidding St. Louis Blues in an unusual late morning start.

“He’s just been fantastic, not only (Friday), not only this year, but his whole career he’s just been incredible for this organization,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of Rinne. “The way he’s backstopped it for so many years with so much consistency … what you see on the ice is incredible.”

Rinne (31-9-4, 2.32 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) has saved some of his best games the last couple seasons for St. Louis. Dating back to last season’s Western Conference semifinals, Rinne has won seven of his last nine against the Blues, giving up only four goals in three contests this season.

That includes a 4-3 overtime victory Feb. 13 in Nashville, a particularly galling loss for St. Louis. The Blues, leading 3-0 with just over 11 minutes left in regulation, blew the lead and then the game, courtesy of a Filip Forsberg penalty shot early in overtime.

It was the second of a St. Louis losing streak that reached five Friday night with a 4-0 loss at home to Winnipeg. A playoff spot which once seemed fait accompli is now anything but assured. The Blues (34-24-4) enter this one in fifth place in the Central Division, two points behind Dallas.

“We’re fighting for a playoff spot, that’s the reality of it,” St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “There’s concern. We’ve got to find a way to win hockey games. We’ve got 20 games left.”

While the Blues are desperate for a win, the Predators (37-14-9) are trying to close out a long stretch of home games by banking two more points. They are tied with Winnipeg for first place and have two games in hand, but start a four-game road trip with a showdown against the Jets on Tuesday night.

Nashville has won three straight games, tightening up the defense and getting its power play going again. After allowing at least three goals in five of its previous seven games, it has ceded only five goals in its modest winning streak.

The Predators also have three man-advantage goals during their winning streak. In their prior seven games, they notched only one power play marker in 23 attempts.

“Tonight, we really showed what kind of damage this team can do,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said after the rout of San Jose. “When everyone is playing like this, it can be a fun stretch.”

Six different players enjoyed two-point games for Nashville and seven players each scored a goal against the Sharks. Viktor Arvidsson continued his recent tear with a goal and an assist, giving him four goals during the winning streak.

Meanwhile, St. Louis has only seven goals during its losing streak. It’s not known if the Blues will start Jake Allen (19-18-2, 2.75, .906) or Carter Hutton (15-6-2, 1.87, .938) in goal.