Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 1/25/12

NASHVILLE – Pekka Rinne’s recent dominant stretch shouldn’t come as any surprise. The all-world goaltender usually performs better and better as the games become more and more important. With that in mind, Rinne is recharging the batteries for another late-season playoff push.

Rinne has started 45 of the Predators’ 50 games this year, which is a 74-start pace. Head coach Barry Trotz believes he was snubbed from the All-Star Game, but Rinne deserves the break. After a rough patch in December, the Kempele, Finland, native has put the team on his back over the last month as they are now contending for the Central Division.

Since a 4-1 loss to Detroit on Dec. 26, Rinne has been phenomenal. Rinne has won 12 of his 13 starts in that time, with the only loss coming on Jan. 5 to Dallas. In the 13-game stretch leading into the All-Star break, the 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist recorded a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

If the last month has been any sort of indication, Rinne is set up to have another successful late-season run. In each of the last three seasons, he has been the Predators’ best player during the playoff push.

Back in the 2008-09 season, Rinne started the bulk of the games over Dan Ellis after the break, posting a 16-4-4 record and 2.13 goals-against average in February and March. After the 2010 Olympic break, Rinne went 12-4-1 with a 1.96 GAA. Last year, with the team’s backs against the wall, he was dynamite in March, going 9-3-2 with a 1.91 GAA in 14 starts.

Trotz cites Rinne’s focus and mentality as the biggest reasons why he improves when the games become more important.

“The great mentality that Peks has is that no matter how we play in front of him, he recognizes that his job is to clean up our mistakes, basically. That’s why I call him the ‘Eraser’ – because he erases our mistakes all the time,” Trotz said.

“I’ve seen goalies stare down their defenseman or teammates when they make a mistake. He’s not wired that way. He’s just like ‘My job is to stop the puck, and if it happens that everyone else in front of me is not playing well, I’ll see if I can make the difference.’ That’s a great mentality to have.”

Ever since he arrived in Nashville on a full-time basis in 2008-09, February and March has been Rinne’s time to shine. In the last two seasons, Rinne has led the Preds to the playoffs with these big late-season pushes; three years ago, the Preds fell just short after a great second half followed a bad first half.

“The deeper you go in the season, you realize how big the games are,” said Rinne, who will spend the next week in Florida. “Obviously you realize that since October, but it’s still different. No matter what you say, it’s different when you come down to the last 30 games or so.”

Last year, backup Anders Lindback started just twice after the All-Star break. Look for more of the same, as the Preds will be relying on Rinne almost every night if they wish to keep pace with the likes of Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis in the division. The team knows its ticket to the playoffs rests on Rinne’s shoulders.

Trotz said of Rinne, “He’s got a great will to win, a great will to be a difference maker.”

Photo credit: Getty Images
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