NASHVILLE -- Five games into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is right where he was at the end of the regular season -- leading the League in wins.
After eliminating the Detroit Red Wings from their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with a 2-1 victory on Friday, Rinne stood in the Preds' dressing room, answering questions confidently, just as he was before the series began.
"We did what we planned to do," he said. "We were well prepared. I think it was our strongest game of the series. Just overall, I thought we won it and we had a lot of will in our game and we were able to do it."
Rinne might have a relaxed, humble disposition off the ice, but his will on the ice cannot be questioned. With a .944 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average, the 6-foot-5 Rinne proved the difference in helping Nashville oust Central Division rival Detroit for the first time in three playoff meetings. The biggest key was winning Games 3 and 4 on the road at Joe Louis Arena, where the Predators had never won in six previous attempts in the postseason.
"Peks played great," Preds All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter said. "Peks stole us a couple of games and he's been doing that all year."
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Prior to Game 5, Predators coach Barry Trotz talked about how his team needed to correct mistakes it was making. Those mistakes were less visible because Rinne erased them and Nashville was winning in spite of them.
"We made too many mistakes," Trotz said on Thursday. "We got away with a few too many mistakes in the last two games. Hopefully, we've got it through to everybody to have the right mindset that if you don't clean it up, those are going got come back and haunt you."
Asked the significance of ousting the Red Wings in such a short span, All-Star defenseman and Preds captain Shea Weber pointed in the direction of his goalie.
"It says how good our goalie is because I think we still haven't played our best," Weber said. "I think today was more of a step in the right direction. We played more of a solid complete game. As the playoffs go on we have to keep getting better because the teams are going to keep getting better."
Rinne himself has had a tendency to do that – get better as the playoffs proceed -- which has given the Predators a chance to be successful in the postseason over the last few playoff seasons. In his last 11 playoff games over his last two series in 2011 and 2012, he has allowed 22 goals in 701:16 for a 1.88 goals-against average during that span.
While signing goalies to large, multi-year contracts can be problematic -- look no further than the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks -- the Preds are reaping the benefits of locking down the 29-year-old Rinne in November to a seven-year, $49-million deal.
That deal came after a season in which Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He might not get there this season despite leading the NHL with 43 wins. The New York Rangers' Henrik Lundquist, Phoenix's Mike Smith and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick would seem to be the favorites.
But there's no understating Rinne's value to the Preds and, depending on how far they can go, he might be in line for other hardware this postseason. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock labeled Rinne a franchise player after his team was eliminated on Friday and Rinne's ability not to surrender rebounds confounded Detroit throughout the entire series. Wings forward Danny Cleary said on Friday morning that Rinne had "stymied" his team.
All of it left Rinne quite happy after the game on Friday.
"It's huge," he said. "They have such a great team, great organization with a lot of history with a lot of success. It was a great chance for us to play against the Detroit Red Wings and beat them in five games. It's great. It tells something about this team. We have lot of talent in this locker room and are having a great time playing right now."