NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WRKN) – Athlete farewells are sometimes messy, unclear and don’t often end on a high note.
Rarely do athlete’s get the epic finale like Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl win send-off. It usually ends like the careers of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, with a loss.
But when describing Pekka Rinne’s could-be final start in Smashville, one word comes to mind: fitting.
A 5-0 shutout win consisting of 30 saves against one of the top teams in the NHL, capped off by an emotional victory lap around the ice, was beyond worthy for a player like Rinne.
“If it is (the end), I’m pretty happy,” said Rinne following the team’s regular season finale win over the Hurricanes.
Rinne said he didn’t want to make the night about him. His teammate, Brad Richardson, encouraged him to go back out on the ice to take a lap and soak it all in.
“I don’t know if I can find the right word (to describe) how much I appreciate our fans,” he said. “My relationship with the fans, this city, it means the world to me. I never want it to be about me.”
His skate around the ice consisted of blown kisses, meaningful eye-contact with fans and many “Thank You’s.”
“I was emotional all day,” Rinne said.
If it was his last start on home ice, he certainly made the most of it. A picture-perfect night for one of Nashville’s all-time great sports figures.
“You probably couldn’t have scripted it better,” said Predators head coach John Hynes. “The last regular-season game, but no one’s saying this is the last regular-season game for (Rinne). This team’s got to get ready for the playoffs, and he’s a big part of it.”
“I think his leadership, his ability to play, how he played tonight, I think it’s inspirational to the team.”
His teammates weren’t ready to close the door on a Rinne return.
“I told him it’s going to be awkward when he comes back next year and we do it again in Game 82,” said forward Matt Duchene.
Rinne’s future on the ice in Nashville is not guaranteed, but he’ll always be in the hearts and minds of Predators fans for years to come.