The Nashville Predators pulled off a massive victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night in front of a surprisingly loud Bridgestone Arena filled to only 33% capacity.
The 1-0 final score, secured when Erik Haula deflected a wrap around pass by Mattias Ekholm in overtime, put the Preds up three points in the standings over the Stars. Though the overtime result didn’t put the space between Nashville and Dallas like it could have, the Preds’ current 82% chance of making the playoffs is a direct result of such an important victory over the team immediately on their heels.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) May 2, 2021
As has been the case for about two months now, Juuse Saros played an enormous role in the victory. He made 28 saves to secure his 3rd shutout of the season, showcasing more of his excellent positioning and sound decision making in the net, and putting even more evidence on the table for him to receive votes for the Vezina Trophy.
Now, with only four games remaining in the Preds’ regular season, they have some very important decisions to make regarding their goaltender management.
Do you rest or play Juuse Saros?
Juuse Saros has played in ten straight games for the Preds, including a back to back affair with Florida early last week. He’s played 33 of the team’s 52 games, and he’s played 20 games in the last 45 days. That’s a hefty load, even for a 26 year old.
Goalies always perform better when rested, and considering how important Saros has been for the Preds, they need him as rested as possible.
So, should the Preds give him some rest ahead of the playoffs (which they technically haven’t clinched yet)?
Or is that putting the proverbial cart before the horse?
The best decision would be to continue playing Juuse Saros as long as you can, at least until you clinch a playoff spot. You cannot risk losing out on the playoffs when you’ve committed this much to making them. Remember, David Poile did not sell any expiring contracts at the trade deadline, nor did he sell off expensive contracts for cheaper assets in preparation for a rebuild, citing that “it wasn’t in his heart” to do so.
But then there’s Pekka Rinne to consider.
Does Pekka Rinne get a curtain call?
As you might recall, Pekka Rinne is in the last year of his contract. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, and no one (apparently not even David Poile) knows his intentions. Maybe he wants to retire? Maybe he wants to wait until after the Seattle expansion and sign a 1-year extension (as Mike Fisher did… sort of).
It is very possible this is Rinne’s last week in a Nashville Predators uniform.
In that case, it seems like the franchise he has given so much to over the years should give him at least one more start as a sending off.
A curtain call for the best Nashville Predators player of all time.
Has to happen right?
But I don’t think it happens with the Preds still in playoff limbo. After all, Juuse Saros is the better goalie right now. Hands down, Saros gives them a better chance to win than Rinne.
It’s a really tough position, but there’s an easy way to play this for the Preds.
Goaltending management in the final four games
To maximize all of the factors above, the Nashville Predators should start Juuse Saros tomorrow night (Monday, May 3rd) in Columbus. If you get the win there, you secure two more points over Dallas, putting more pressure on the Stars.
Then, if the Stars match that win with two points over the Panthers, you start Juuse Saros again on Wednesday in Columbus. Again, they need to secure their playoff position first.
Hopefully by this point in the week, the Stars have dropped at least one point more than the Preds (Dallas plays Florida and Tampa; Nashville plays Columbus twice). That puts Nashville up four points over Dallas, owning the tie breaker as well.
That doesn’t clinch the playoffs for Nashville, but it does give them breathing room… enough breathing room to be able to start Pekka Rinne on Saturday night in Nashville against Carolina.
One final Saturday night game for the best Preds’ goaltender of all time.
I’ve seen a lot of important hockey games at Bridgestone Arena. Stanley Cup Final games, All-Star Games, playoff overtime winners, and plenty of others. But seeing the home crowd amped to watch the final performance of Pekka Rinne in their building? That might be hard to beat.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —