Goaltending play has been the storyline of the season for both the Predators and Blue Jackets. Heading in to tonight's match-up there's no reason for that to change; tonight’s expected match-up between Pekka Rinne
and Steve Mason is more special than most goaltending duels. The two rookie netminders are projected to both be finalists for the NHL’s Calder Trophy awarded to the league’s Rookie of the Year. They rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in shutouts, No. 4 and No. 5 in goals against average, No. 7 and No. 10 in save percentage. More importantly, they’ve backstopped their teams into the top-eight in the Western Conference playoff race. Neither Rinne nor Mason was his team’s starting goaltender when the season opened, but both played too well in early season appearances to be denied opportunities for more pronounced roles. And both took advantage of those opportunities.
Mason has earned more of the media attention as the Blue Jackets try to chase their franchise-first playoff appearance. The rookie has compiled a 31-18-5 record with a 2.24 goals against average, .918 save percentage, and an un-heard-of 10 shutouts. But Rinne has matched his fellow first-year netminder with a 27-11-4 record, 2.26 goals against average, .921 save percentage, and seven shutouts.
Tonight’s game will have a playoff-type feel. Rinne has thrived under the playoff-type pressure with an 11-1-4 record since February 19 with a 2.14 goals against average and .926 save percentage, including a 5-0-3 mark in his last eight starts. He’s allowed just 25 even strength goals in those 16 games and played his best against the best; Rinne’s gone 3-0-1 against Detroit and San Jose this month with wins over both the Red Wings and Sharks within the past week.
The two went head-to-head earlier this season with Rinne stopping 31-of-33 shots on March 5 to lead the Predators to a 4-2 win over Mason and the Blue Jackets. The two are also likely to rematch this weekend when the Blue Jackets visit Nashville this Saturday. If Rinne can out-duel Mason – and more importantly pick up two wins over the Blue Jackets – not only will the Preds playoff chances get a major boost, but Rinne may supplant Mason as the leading contender for the Calder Trophy.