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Filppula gives Preds more to think about

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Valtteri Filppula led the Red Wings with four goals this season against the Predators. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It used to be that when Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne prepared for the Red Wings, Public Enemy No. 1 was Tomas Holmstrom, the Swedish Demolition Man who has made a career out of pester opposing netminders.


“Obviously, Holmstrom has had a great, great career and that's his key thing, what he does,” said Rinne, who led the NHL with 43 wins this season. “You can't get rattled, can't get frustrated, whatever happens in front of the net my job is to focus on the puck and try to make the saves.

“You still have to keep that in the back of your mind when he's on the ice. You pretty much know he's going to park right in front of you. You're going to see that 96 all night long.”

But this season, Rinne had a new adversary in Wings forward Valtteri Filppula, a fellow countryman, who had a great six-game stretch against the Predators this season.

“Yes, he did, and I was mad about that,” said Rinne, about surrendered four of Filppula’s career-high 23 goals this season.

“I feel like he's shooting the puck way more, he's going to the net, going in those dirty areas, he's not afraid to get hit or take a hit,” Rinne said. “That's how you score. I don't know how you score goals, but I guess that's how you score goals.”

Beginning in training camp, the coaches challenged Filppula to score more. It started by moving him from center to the wing and putting him on a forward line with center Henrik Zetterberg and forward Jiri Hudler. And it just may have been the biggest move of the season, taking the 28-year-old Finnish-born star from a third line center to a top six forward.

Part of his transformation is that Filppula shot more pucks at the net this season, actually 25.2 percent more from last season. Wings coach Mike Babcock would now like to see Filppula build on his remarkable season and continue to be a problem for Rinne by being more active in front of the net in their Western Conference quarterfinal series.

“That's the chat we had at the morning skate, 'Fil, you had an unbelievable year, if you're going to be unbelievable in the playoffs you got to be on the inside,” Babcock said. “He's a dominant skater, he's strong as an ox, he can work the D. He's got to get on the inside.”

The two Fins have never played together back home, though they were opponents in the Finnish junior league. But besides to the goals he gave up, Rinne was very complimentary when talking about Filppula following Wednesday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena.

“Really nice guy,” Rinne said. “On the ice he looks a little bit like (Pavel) Datsyuk, he's so smooth with the puck, great skater, strong on the puck, protects the puck really well. He always seems to find his linemates, and this year he's also been scoring a lot more. That's a dangerous combination when you can dish the puck and also score some goals. That line has been going really well.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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