If the Nashville Predators ever needed backup goaltender David Rittich to step up, that time is now.
With the status of starting goalie Juuse Saros in flux after an injury sustained in Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Calgary Flames, the Predators are a team heading into the playoffs in very uncertain waters.
If Saros cannot play in the team’s first-round series, the pressure is on Rittich to shutdown either the Colorado Avalanche or Calgary Flames potent offenses, knowing that his leash is likely short with rookie Connor Ingram not far behind him.
Rittich impressed with a 42-save performance in Nashville’s topsy-turvy game against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night after allowing three goals in a shaky opening period. He settled down, allowing just one goal in the second period as the Preds offense came alive and tallied three goals to force overtime.
Offensively resurgent forward Matt Duchene tallied the deciding goal in a shootout to keep the Predators ahead of the Dallas Stars for the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.
“It was really good to see him come through,” Hynes said of Rittich. “He got put in a tough situation against Calgary the other night. We had a disappointing ending to that game…[to] have him come in and play well tonight…he stays with it. He made some big saves when we needed him.
“It’s nice to see him, I think, feel good about his game, which is really important.”
The Predators close out the regular season Friday night against the Coyotes, while Dallas hosts the Anaheim Ducks. One point secures the first wild card for Nashville and earns the team a trip to Calgary, the more favorable first-round opponent, and more importantly, keeps the Predators away from a first-round draw against top-seeded Colorado.
The Predators beat the Flames twice in three tries this season.
“When you’re playing teams that you might play in the playoffs, but also teams that are as good as the teams we’ve played, there’s a reason why they’re as good as they are,” Hynes said. “They play the game the right way, they play hard, they’re extremely competitive. It’s an exciting time of year. I think the fans and the players are really excited, so the intensity level of the games ramp up.”