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Pekka Rinne of Predators revels in reaching Western Conference Final

Goaltender, in ninth season with Nashville, says 'it means everything'

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

You can forgive Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne for already celebrating. Just a little bit.

Rinne is 34. He was selected by the Predators in the eighth round (No. 258) of the 2004 NHL Draft and has spent all nine of his NHL seasons in Nashville.

The Predators have reached the Western Conference Final for the first time in their 19-year history -- they will face the winner of Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round between the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks, being played Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) -- and Rinne has been around for nearly half that time.

So while his teammates say the job is only half done, Rinne has earned the right to revel in an accomplishment he has invested so much time and energy into, something he hopes will continue deep into June and end with him raising the Stanley Cup.

For now, he's going to enjoy this.

"Right now it means everything," Rinne said. "We haven't gone further than this before. It's a great feeling. There's a lot of work left, but after this second round there's only four teams left.

"We all know we have what it takes and everything is in our hands. It's a good feeling. This is why you play this game. Right now, I'm pretty happy."

Video: NSH@STL, Gm5: Rinne pushes across to rob Reaves

Often in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we find a player like Rinne to root for. A player who might be nearing the end of his career who has never touched the Cup and has never been closer. But those players are often past their prime, more valued for their leadership or other intangibles.

Rinne is different.

"He's been our best player in the whole playoffs so far, making saves that you don't think are possible and keeping us in games," forward Victor Arvidsson said. "He's been unbelievable."

Rinne has a League-best .951 save percentage in 10 playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, teams that finished ninth and 12th, respectively, in regular-season scoring. His even-strength save percentage is .957, nine points higher than the next best goalie, Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks at .948. has a goals saved above average statistic that measures how many more goals an average goalie would allow based on the number of shots a goalie has faced. Rinne has a goals saved above average number of 9.29. The next highest is Blues goalie Jake Allen at 5.17, and no one else is above 4.

Yes, Rinne is doing far more than playing a leadership role with the Predators, though that aspect of his contributions should not be discounted either. But his impact is very tangible.

"He's been excellent down the stretch," coach Peter Laviolette said, before correcting himself. "Well, he's been excellent all year, but down the stretch he's been terrific in the postseason. In these first two rounds to this point, he's been terrific and I think our guys have done a really good job in front of him."

Video: NSH@STL, Gm2: Rinne stones Tarasenko with pad stop

Another way Rinne has made a significant impact on games is his refusal to allow pucks to be rimmed around his net by opponents. It is almost like a personal affront to him that someone would even try it. To see Rinne leave his net as the puck comes around the boards and attack it, almost as if he were making a save, is one of the most entertaining parts of his game.

He will go down and slide into the boards or slam his entire body into them if the puck is off the ice, and it cuts many opposing forechecking opportunities short before they even get started, allowing the Predators' mobile defense to start moving the puck the other way.

He hits the boards so violently, it makes you wonder if he's ever hurt himself doing it.

"No I haven't," Rinne said with a laugh. "Luckily nowadays, these boards, they kind of give. So it's almost like taking a hit. I like it. It gets you going."

His defensemen like it as well.

"That's one of his things, he's amazing at doing that," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "It makes our job as [defensemen] much easier instead of going back for pucks. He's really good at it, so we trust him fully back there with making the right reads."

The fact that Rinne is still able to make those reads this far into May is not lost on him, and he considers it the finest moment of his career.

"Obviously you've got some moments when you come to the League, play your first game, things like that," he said. "But you're out here to win. So this is only halfway, but you've got to be happy. It's the furthest that I've ever gone and this organization. So it's a good step for us."

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