The Nashville Predators and their fans gave Pekka Rinne a near perfect ending at Bridgestone Arena last night.

With the legendary Preds’ goalie playing in what could be his final home game, the Preds put five goals on the Carolina Hurricanes in an otherwise meaningless game (the team has already clinched a playoff berth), securing Rinne’s 369th career win, tying him with Tom Barrasso. Rinne also matched the offensive effort with a 30-save shutout of his own, the 60th shutout of his career.

But the real show came at the end of the game.

With the limited capacity crowd at Bridgestone Arena providing him with extra applause and cheers all night, Pekka Rinne skated a victory lap around the ice, acknowledging the fans and appealing to the subtext of the night: this may very well be his last home start for the Preds, so he might as well seal the memory.

“Overwhelming… very special. I don’t know if I can find the right word for how much I appreciate our fans,” Pekka Rinne said after the game. “My relationship with the fans, this city, it means the world to me.”

When asked about the emotional moment at the end of the game, Rinne admitted it was a unique experience for many reasons. For one, he knows the team isn’t finished, as they have a date with these same Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.

“I never want it to be about me. This team is going to the playoffs, we have big things ahead, but I truly, truly appreciate what happened tonight and it goes very high on my personal list, my experiences in hockey.”

The emotional swell of the situation, throughout warmups, the game itself, and the postgame, was not lost on Rinne, who understands the complicated nature of everything that happened.

“I was emotional all day. My fiance and my son, even in the warmups they were on the glass, I had a hard time keeping it together. And during the game, same thing with the fan’s reactions, all the signs and things like that. Really appreciate it. Love this city and love the fans. It was very, very special.”

As for his future, Pekka Rinne was still cagey about his plans.

“I haven’t made any concrete plans about my future, but if it is [the end of my Preds career] I’m pretty happy. Hopefully, when that day comes, I’ll be looking back to what happened in my last game.

“I don’t want to go too far ahead yet, like I’ve mentioned we still have bigger and better things ahead. But if it is [the end], I can’t deny, I can’t lie to you, it was a pretty cool game.”

No one knows what Pekka Rinne’s plans for the future might be. Listening to his comments, it seems like maybe he doesn’t even know. There have been rumors that he wants to go back to Finland to play after his NHL career is over. He’s also mentioned he “wants to retire a Nashville Predator.” His contract is up at the end of the year and there have no reports of a contract extension.

For now, nothing is official, which made for a very unique set of circumstances for Preds fans last night.

Given the context, all Preds fans in attendance prepared as if it was the end. The limited capacity crowd at Bridgestone Arena was extremely vocal in their support for Rinne, throughout warmups, pre-game, and the game itself. Almost every Preds jersey adorned was a Rinne #35. Fans even held signs devoted to Rinne, one of which implored him to return for one more season.

But it wasn’t your typical “swan song” for a retiring player, where you have the team and game operations acknowledge the retirement, maybe have a ceremony at the end.

Everything that happened in this game, particularly at the end, was organic and real. The team and organization didn’t have to arrange this emotional ending; it just happened. An outpouring of real, emotional connection between the franchise’s greatest ever player and the fans that have adored him for 15 years.

It was a near perfect ending for Pekka Rinne.

The only thing that would make it more perfect?

One more curtain call, but with the Stanley Cup in hand.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —