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Rinne looks to return to Vezina-caliber standard

by Curtis Zupke
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When one sees Pekka Rinne fill up the net with his 6-foot-5 frame and stop the puck with remarkable athleticism, it's difficult to think of a more imposing goaltender in hockey.

It's even more difficult to believe Rinne was taken in the eighth round, with the 258th pick, in 2004, and this was just his third full season in the NHL.

Even Rinne is surprised at his quick ascension to the ranks of the elite goalies in the world, which was confirmed by his nomination for the Vezina Trophy on Friday.

"It's been a journey," Rinne said after Nashville's morning skate.

"I was just talking to my goalie coach, Mitch Korn. It feels crazy to sit here right now. Just looking back five years ago, back then it (the Vezina) didn't even cross my mind.

"It's hard to say in just one word. I'm sure I'll kind of realize that after the season a little bit better. Right now it probably doesn't feel like that big of a deal. Being among the top goalies, it's a great honor and a great honor for my teammates. It goes to show what kind of team we have here. I haven't done anything by myself."

Rinne carried a 2.12 goals-against average that ranked third in the league behind fellow nominees Tim Thomas of Boston and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver, and his .930 save percentage was second to Thomas.

Those numbers are more impressive considering that Rinne plays on an offensively-challenged team in which he is required to keep his club in close games or protect the smallest of leads.

"He's up to the task every night," Nashville captain Shea Weber said. "He's been our backbone all year and without him, we definitely wouldn't be in the situation that we're in right now."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz started Rinne in 29 of his team's final 30 games as Rinne helped the Predators secure a playoff berth in the ultra-tight Western Conference playoff race.

"In my mind he's the best goaltender in the National Hockey League, and it's not taking anything away from any of the other candidates," Trotz said. "Selfishly, I see him every night and I know how good he is."

The nomination comes after one of Rinne's more forgettable games, a Game 4 loss in which he allowed six goals and was pulled in the third period.

Rinne said it will serve as motivation for Game 5 at Honda Center.

"Even though you try your best to put those games behind you, there's no other way," he said. "You kind of trust yourself and play your game and do what you've been doing for the whole season. Trust the things that have made you successful."

No Erat update: Martin Erat was expected to see a team physician Friday, according to Trotz, who said he hadn't heard the results and doesn't know his status for Game 6.

Erat suffered an upper-body injury when was hit by Jarkko Ruutu in Game 4 and he did not travel with Nashville.

Trotz wouldn't say who would replace Erat, the team's co-leading scorer. His options seem to be J-P Dumont, Colin Wilson and Cal O'Reilly.

"It will be a game-time (decision)," Trotz said. "But do I know where I want to go? Yeah."

O'Reilly has been out since Jan.2 with a broken leg but has been skating for about six weeks and said he's ready, although it would be a challenge to jump into a postseason game.

"He's up to the task every night. He's been our backbone all year and without him, we definitely wouldn't be in the situation that we're in right now." -- Shea Weber on Pekka Rinne

"That's the tough thing, mentally getting going again," O' Reilly said. "But I've prepared for this. I'm anxious to get out there and play. I'm sure my adrenaline will get going and I'll just play and I'll try and help these guys."

Ryan returns: Bobby Ryan will return to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for stomping on the foot of defenseman Jonathon Blum in Game 2.

That means the Ducks' big line of Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be back together to give Anaheim a psychological shot in the arm, especially after it was able to split Games 3-4.

"I think Getz and Pears can produce with anybody, but I think we've become most comfortable playing together," Ryan said. "Adding that back to the mix, I hope, certainly puts them at ease a little bit. But I'm going to be there and I'm going to make plays for them."

Anaheim will gain Ryan but lose Ruutu, a fourth-line winger who will serve a one-game suspension for his hit on Erat.

"We're missing a big body that kills penalties, aggressive on the forecheck and basically a good team guy," coach Randy Carlyle said. "Whether he plays, as somebody has quoted, five minutes, six minutes or seven minutes, we've asked him to give us the best … contribution."

More chirping: The series has grown contentious with both sides jawing at each other over controversial plays, and Trotz didn't hold back when asked what he made of it so far.

"They play for keeps," Trotz said of Anaheim. "From my standpoint, they've had two suspensions. There's five in the rest of the playoffs and they've got two of them. They're not lily white. I use Randy's words: Just watch the tape. It's there. The League is doing the right thing. We trust the League. We have the best officials in the League. I just think, let the players play it. I know there's posturing. I know I'd be probably saying the same thing in defending my players, but just watch the tape."

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