If he can do it, Pekka Rinne will help small-market Nashville pull off an upset over the nation's largest media market.
Not on the ice, but in cyberspace. At 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, the voting was set to close for EA Sports NHL13's Cover Vote, an NCAA tournament-style bracket pitting player against player to try to land the cover of the home video game. The winner of the current round will be announced on Thursday.
Some teams, like Rinne's Predators, have mounted social media campaigns. Some like ex-Predator Scott Hartnell of Philadelphia have taken to YouTube for a mock presidential-style commercial complete with a waving U.S. flag in the background (Hartnell is Canadian) and the disclaimer, "I'm Scott Hartnell and I approved this message;" the video has received more than 28,000 views. Behind the scenes, there is said to be reality-TV style alliances in the making between some teams in favor of their candidates.
In Rinne's case, he is going after his second straight opponent from a big market -- nothing new to the Predators on the ice -- after ousting Chicago's Patrick Sharp in the last round. Rinne has earned an even more imposing foe, fellow goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, who were set to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday -- offering the Swede a potential advantage.
Nonetheless, Rinne has held his own. As of 10:46 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, EASportsNHL's Twitter feed indicated that Rinne was in the lead.
Whichever player wins out, the campaign has proved a public relations victory for the league. The voting started with 60 players and now by the quarterfinal round, nearly 19 million votes have been cast, according to the NHL. When EA Sports first took its popular NFL Madden game public for this kind of vote for the game's '11 edition, 13 million votes were cast during a similar campaign.
Of the players remaining, Rinne is going up against the only player whose team is still alive. Lundqvist is fighting for a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup final, with his team tied with New Jersey at two games apiece. Although on Wednesday, "The King," as he is called in New York, is likely to have other things on his mind.
"I think with Lundqvist being in the New York media market, with his team being in the playoffs, with some of the notoriety he's been able to gain in Sweden with a lot of the games he's played for the international team (winning an Olympic gold medal in 2006), I think it appeared at the start that the deck was maybe stacked a little bit against us," said Jay Levin, the Predators' manager of interactive marketing who happens to be from metropolitan New York. "I guess in a fan voting like this, it's hard to say an upset one way or another, but when you consider a lot of those factors, I think it appeared as if Lundqvist maybe had an easier route."
That might also have been assumed for Lundqvist's team in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Rangers earned the Eastern Conference's top regular season record, but now find themselves possibly looking at a third straight seven-game series.
The opposite side of the bracket from Rinne's already has been decided. Philadelphia's Claude Giroux emerged over Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin bested Hartnell in a match-up between two of the league's fiercest rivals. The other match-up on Rinne's side of the bracket features Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk up against the New York Islanders' John Tavares, who was the beneficiary of a YouTube video made by his teammate Michael Grabner.
If Rinne survives, the next round of voting will end on May 28. Voting between the finalists concludes on June 4 but the winner will not be announced until the league's awards ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20.
If Rinne prevails against Lundqvist this time around, the Preds promise to use their wiles in the semifinals.
"I would imagine heading into next round that will be a strategy to the game," Levin said of alliance-making. "We've already started to reach out in case."