Originally written March 30, 2012 on Fox Sports Detroit:
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DETROIT -- Things could change, but the Red Wings are looking at a first-round playoff matchup against the Nashville Predators, quite possibly without home ice advantage. If you're looking at Friday night's 4-1 loss to those same Predators, you wouldn't necessarily prefer that matchup. Why? Pekka Rinne. No, the Wings didn't lay the proverbial egg as they did in Columbus on Wednesday, but they couldn't crack the Predators 6-foot-5 Vezina Trophy-contending goaltender, at least not until the game was essentially over. There's a reason that Rinne now has a league-leading 42 wins to his credit. He's that good. Exhibit A took place in the second period Friday night. The Wings had a chance to tie the game with a couple of power plays late in the period. Henrik Zetterberg, who has been quite hot of late, had a juicy rebound waiting for him on the right doorstep. But Rinne had his glove perfectly placed, and that's where the puck ended up. "Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) made a good play with his skate and I thought it was open, but he reached back and made a play," said Zetterberg, who was shaking his head after it happened. "If I keep it on the ice it's a goal. In your head you always want to get the puck up, but in that case I probably should have kept it on the ice." Rinne's play not only preserved the 1-0 lead, it gave his team enough momentum that they were able to capitalize with 33 seconds left in the period. "I thought the second goal we had poor (defensive) zone coverage," coach Mike Babcock said. "It was after a power play when we were real good; it was poor (defensive) zone coverage and they scored on it." Predators coach Barry Trotz knew who was largely responsible for his team's victory, the 500th in the history of the franchise and his 500th as coach. "Pekka was outstanding," Trotz said. "When it was 1-0 he had back-to-back penalty kills and he made that one save that was ... that was Pekka Rinne. He's able to make a save like that it's just incredible. It's that big save you need and then we come back and scored." Rinne is now 11-5-3 in his career against the Wings. Jimmy Howard, who had 23 saves in his return from missing four games with a groin injury, knows Rinne very well from their days in the American Hockey League. If it's Rinne he's up against, Howard said he's ready for the challenge, even though he is just 6-5-1 against the Predators. "I think it's going to be a great matchup," Howard said. "It's going to be back and forth, it's going to be tight and it'll probably come down to goaltending, whose goalie is better. I'll definitely enjoy that." Babcock said Howard will start at least three of the last four games of the season. He and the rest of the returning injured players don't have a lot of time to get up to speed. "If youre looking at a head-to-head match-up, their guy won it," Babcock said. "Its kind of like our teams, Id say hes got to get better. Thats quite a few of the guys and Mules (Johan Franzen) going to get better and Pavs (Pavel Datsyuk) going to get better. "All of the guyswho have been injured are gonna get better and weve got to keep playing them. I thought that Big E (Jonathan Ericsson) had a pretty good game for a guy who has been out as much as he has." As Howard said, the outcome will depend on the goaltenders, as it usually does in the playoffs. Right now, that edge has to go to Nashville, if only because Howard has battled a groin injury and is not playing at the same level that earned him a league-best 30 victories before the All-Star break. "It gives us some confidence that we can win in this building," said Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who had an empty-net goal. "We have to clean some things up, though, because Pekka made some huge saves. It couldve been a different story." If the Wings want the playoffs to be a different story than the last several, injury-plagued weeks have been, Howard will have to be great, and fast.
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