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Pens wins controversial one, spoil Rinne’s return

He wasn’t tested much in his two games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals last weekend. Sure, Pekka Rinne won both games of his conditioning assignment but he saw just 35 shots total. And, considering that was AHL talent at AHL speed, he would liked to have seen more.

On Tuesday night — his first NHL action since October 22 — he was thrown to the wolves.

The high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins were in town and downed the Preds, 3-1, but Rinne was spectacular from the drop of the puck. It certainly didn’t look like he had missed four months. Matt Niskanen scored twice for the Pens and Sidney Crosby had three assists in the victory as the Preds dropped to 26-26-10 on the season.

Rinne turned aside 16 of 19 shots on the night but had plenty of tough stops including this amazing kick save just 2:30 into the contest.

After a scoreless opening frame, the Pens struck first early in the second. Niskanen one-timed a pass that squeaked between Rinne and the post to make it 1-0.

Patric Hornqvist answered immediately, however. Just 14 seconds after Niskanen’s tally, Hornqvist corralled a rebound and put it past Marc-Andre Fluery to tie the game 1-1.

Midway through the final period, the stalemate was broken thanks to a David Legwand penalty in the offensive zone and the top ranked Pittsburgh power play. Niskanen one-timed a rocket from the blueline that flew past Rinne to put the visitors up 2-1.

Chris Kunitz — who was denied by Rinne in the opening moments — finally tallied late the tilt to ice the game for the Pens.

The Kunitz goal, however, was not without controversy. While Roman Josi was collecting the puck along the boards, it appeared as if Crosby intentionally put his skate blade into Josi’s to create the turnover. The slew-foot gave Crosby the puck, who got it over to Kunitz for the one-timer. Josi immediately starts yelling at the official and Shea Weber got an unsportsmanlike minor and a misconduct major for his choice words on the incident.

This wasn’t the only call that went Pittsburgh’s way. Just before Legwand’s interference call at 11:19 of the third, the Penguins got away with what appeared to be a pretty clear boarding call. And, if you want to go back to the first period, Paul Gaustad had a goal disallowed because it was kicked in. On the replay it’s easy to see Gaustad redirect the puck with his skate but Rule 49.2 clearly states “A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net.” There doesn’t seem to be any kicking motion, let alone a “distinct” one.

Unfortunately the Predators can’t do anything about it now and they have to take Rinne’s strong performance and regroup for the St. Louis Blues who come to town on Thursday.

Thankfully for Nashville, the teams they’re in direct competition with for the West’s final playoff spot are helping them out. Only the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars have won a game over the last few days and the Winnipeg Jets mustered just a single point on Tuesday. The Preds sit just six points out through Tuesday’s action and, with a strong push, could force their way into the dance if things fall right.

That said, they are six points out with just 20 games to go.

Newly acquired Ryan Miller and the Central Division leading Blues come to town on Thursday. Nashville will have to steal a win or two from the league’s top teams down the stretch if they want to make up ground.

Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua (used with permission)