published Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Rinne lifts Preds to NHL series tie

NASHVILLE — The Vancouver Canucks are ready to get their offense restarted. The Nashville Predators? Well, in goalie Pekka Rinne they trust.

The Vezina Trophy finalist has reclaimed his form, and he made 18 of his 32 saves in overtime by diving and flipping to block shots and give his teammates a chance. Matt Halischuk scored 14:51 into the second overtime for a 2-1 Predators win on Saturday night that tied this Western Conference semifinal series 1-1.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Sunday that Rinne has returned to his usual stingy form against Vancouver after his teammates rescued him for a change in their opening series against Anaheim.

“In the first two games, Peks has been the one to bail us out. He’s done it all year, and it’s good that we could give him a little breather,” Trotz said.

Now Rinne has allowed Vancouver, which scored a NHL-high 262 goals in the regular season, only two goals in the first two games. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel — who claimed the league’s scoring title the past two seasons, have yet to notch a point.

Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, who tied it 1-1 by scoring a goal off Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo’s left skate with 67 seconds left in regulation, called it a team effort.

With one exception.

“Peks is playing the best he’s ever played, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing,” Suter said.

So someone asked Rinne if he is getting dizzy standing on his head in this series.

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” Rinne said with a laugh. “That’s a great feeling when you can do that. Hopefully, I can keep it going. I hope to do it all the way to June.”

The Canucks, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season, didn’t sound too worried before flying out of Vancouver with the series switching to Nashville for Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Defenseman Kevin Bieksa had a chance at the win before Rinne dove headfirst to smother the puck with 2:14 left in the first overtime. He said the Canucks just have to score more goals.

“I don’t think we can expect to win every game scoring one goal,” Bieksa said. “Obviously our defensive game is pretty good, but I don’t think we can rely on it that much. So we need more pucks on net, we need more traffic, we need more scoring chances.”

The Canucks have only 18 goals in nine playoff games this postseason, worst among teams still playing. Bieksa said it’s not a problem except when it costs games.

“We’ll win every game 1-0 if we can, but if we’re going to be letting up one or two goals then we have to score more, and playing in our zone for shifts at a time is definitely not going to help us there,” Bieksa said.

The Canucks also brought defenseman Sami Salo, out since early in Game 6 in Chicago, to Nashville. Coach Alain Vigneault said he was unsure if Salo will be available for Game 3.

Vancouver has had chances. The Sedins set up Jannik Hansen late in the third period for a tap in that could have iced the victory on Saturday, but he missed it. They set up Bieksa with an empty net in what should have been a game-winner, even with Rinne’s spectacular save.

Vigneault put Mikael Samuelsson back with the Sedins in overtime, and that helped the Canucks generate more shots.

Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said it isn’t like past series where they haven’t created chances. To him, it’s just a matter of doing the same thing and then finishing off scoring chances.

“You got to look at the positives,” he said. “We’re in the second round, we’re tied 1-1 and we got a chance to go down to Nashville and steal a game down there.

“As a team we’re having a tough time getting goals, but that’s going to happen.

The Predators’ biggest challenge might be handling the reaction they’re getting in Nashville. About 100 fans greeted them at the airport Sunday, cheering each person.

“We’ve got to be ready and put our best foot forward,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said.

But the Predators might have had the edge on the long flight. They flew home after the double overtime game with home-ice advantage in this series against the West’s No. 1 seed, winners of the longest playoff game in franchise history and the third longest for the Canucks.

“If you play a game like that and you lose, it definitely would’ve been a tough one,” Suter said.

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