BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Predators stalwart Pekka Rinne briefly stopped to marvel when informed of the elite NHL goaltending company he joined in becoming a three-time 40-game winner — and after a shutout, no less.
Only six players — Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk, among them — had previously done that.
“When you say that, it sounds pretty cool,” Rinne said, after stopping 35 shots in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. “Those guys are legends of this game. They’ve done so much not only for the game of hockey but for the position of being a goalie. That’s great. That’s a credit to my teammates, big time, and also my coaching staff.”
Rinne has been nearly unbeatable in winning his 11th straight game and improving to 40-9-4. And the 12-year veteran is carrying the NHL-leading Predators along with him in approaching numerous franchise milestones.
Nashville set a team record by extending its point streak to 15 games (14-0-1). And the Predators won their ninth consecutive road game as part of a run in which they’re 12-0-3 in their past 15 to break yet another team record.
“He’s unbelievable,” teammate Ryan Johansen said of Rinne. “In our opinion, he’s been the most valuable player for us.”
The rest of the Predators have been no slouches during a stretch in which they haven’t lost in regulation since a 3-1 setback against Detroit on Feb. 17.
Johansen and Mike Fisher scored goals 4:34 apart in the second period. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Hartman then sealed it by scoring in the final four minutes.
First-year Sabres coach Phil Housley could only tip his hat to Nashville, where he spent the previous four seasons as an assistant. Though the final score didn’t reflect it, Housley was pleased with how the Sabresm last in the Eastern Conference, held their own against the Predators for mostly two periods.
“I can’t fault the way our guys played. I thought they brought their best game,” Housley said. “One thing I’d like to see our guys do better is stop in front of the net and start pounding it, whacking at some loose pucks there.”
Then again, Housley is all too familiar with how well Rinne can play when he gets into a groove.
“If we could rattle him early and get him off his game a little bit, that’s the time we’ve got to take advantage,” Housley said. “But once he settles in, he’s tough to beat.”
Buffalo’s Jack Eichel burst up the left side and behind the Predators’ defense to drive across the crease only to have his shot stopped by Rinne’s left pad four minutes in. Rinne also got an assist from teammate Kevin Fiala, who got his stick out to stop Justin Bailey’s attempt to tap in a bouncing puck in the crease.
Rinne kicked out his right pad to foil Nicholas Baptiste’s snap shot from the slot 2:30 into the second period. With the game still scoreless, Rinne snapped his glove to snag Jason Pominville’s rising slap shot from the right circle.
Buffalo’s minor-league call-up Linus Ullmark stopped 28 shots, starting in place of Robin Lehner, who was sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
Ullmark had little chance on Fisher’s goal that opened the scoring 12:29 into the second period.
Fisher and teammate Scott Hartnell were both parked in front when Fisher deflected in Mikka Salomaki’s shot from the blue line. The Sabres challenged the goal by arguing Fisher interfered with Ullmark. The goal was allowed to stand despite a replay showing Fisher nudged the back of Ullmark’s skate in the crease and also got a hand on the goalie’s glove.
Housley questioned the ruling.
“I don’t know what you call goalie interference anymore,” Housley said. “His skate hits Linus’ skate, which doesn’t allow him to get down into the butterfly and make the save.”
There was no disputing Johansen’s goal. Ullmark stopped Viktor Arvidsson’s initial shot from the right circle. The rebound fell at Ullmark’s his feet where Forsberg chipped the puck to Johansen, who snapped it in the open left side.
NOTES: Brodeur leads the list of 40-game winners by having done so eight times. Washington’s Braden Holtby is the only other active goalie to win 40 games three times. The other three-time 40-game-winners were Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Mikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov. … Sabres RW Kyle Okposo returned after missing three games with a concussion. … With 10 games left, the Predators inched closer to matching franchise records for most wins (51) and points (110) set in 2006-07.
Predators: Host Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Sabres: Host Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday in matchup of NHL’s two worst teams.
More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey