Pekka Rinne has been the greatest goaltender in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here’s why he deserves the Conn Smythe, just three rounds into the playoffs. Hint: it has to do with him being the Predators” biggest strength.
The Nashville Predators have one secret to success in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Pekka Rinne. Rinne’s gained his ultimate form, one worthy of the Conn Smythe trophy. He wasn’t like this in the regular season, and he’s never performed like it in any other playoffs. But here he is, the greatest goaltender, and one going for the Stanley Cup.
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) follows the puck in play (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Of the starting goaltenders in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pekka Rinne is tied for last in losses and most in wins. And that’s just the start of his success in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rinne also has the greatest number of shutouts and the least amount of goals allowed of goaltenders remaining. Rinne’s also posted the best save percentage of anybody with more than one game played, as well as the best goals against average. His GAA is lower than the Predators’ as a team.
While this can also be credited to his defense, the Ghostbusters (again, the original version), it’s mostly been Rinne becoming a monster. You don’t post a .942 SV% only because of your defense. Just ask John Gibson, who’s at 15th in terms of save percentage and goals-against average, with a pretty good defense. Rinne has stood on his head, and he’s been rewarded for it.
There’s the famous arc in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs that Rinne had more points in the first round than the Chicago Blackhawks. While that’s not true – the Blackhawks had three goals, plus numerous assists – Rinne still posted as many assists as the Blackhawks did goals. And that’s something special because it was he who limited the best team in the West. At least coming into the playoffs.
Rinne posted back-to-back shutouts in Chicago. He came into the playoffs, a man on a mission, and delivered Nashville their first two wins. In getting the Predators over the hump, Rinne gave them a fighting chance. And then the Predators delivered. But first, let’s explore how we got here.
Pekka Rinne is a 34-year-old goalie who’s been in the National Hockey League consistently for nine years. He only played 3 games before he was 26 years old. He hadn’t started any of them. And then he rolled in, 26 years old, and delivered above league average his rookie year. He posted a .917 SV% and a 2.38 GAA.
It would take another year for Rinne to deliver numbers better than that. Still, in his second year in the NHL, Rinne took the Predators to the playoffs, facing off against the young Chicago Blackhawks. The Predators lost that series in six games, as Rinne only posted a .911 SV% and a 2.68 GAA.
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) defends the goal (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
The best playoffs for Rinne as Predators’ goaltender came in 2012. The Predators only lasted ten games, but Rinne posted a .929 SV% and a 2.07 GAA. That should be the first sign that Rinne was capable of a playoff performance like this one.
Rinne has never been consistent. His two best seasons were at age 28 and age 32. He’s been a Vezina finalist three times but has never won. Between seasons of save percentages like .930 and two of .923, Rinne has had down years of .908 and .902. For reference, .930 is a statistically superior season, and .908 and .902 are well below league-average.
His past playoff performances haven’t been much better. It’s really just that age 29 season when the Predators only survived ten games. It wasn’t his fault, but the Predators were still eliminated. And even that season is nowhere close to this one.
In the regular season this year, Rinne delivered a .918 SV% and a 2.42 GAA. Of goaltenders with more than 20 games played, Rinne was nineteenth in save percentage and goals-against average. Juuse Saros, his backup, was better in both categories.
So how did Rinne get this good in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Well, again, those two confidence builders against the Blackhawks probably helped. Two straight shutouts against a team on the road will do great things for a goaltender. In the playoffs, it often comes down to who’s got the hot hand. And after not allowing “Chelsea Dagger” to be played in Chicago, that became Rinne.
The Predators new defensive trap system didn’t hurt either. The Blackhawks were not fast enough to beat the Preds to the puck. That allowed the defense of the Predators to choke out the Blackhawks offense. It also allowed the Predators to get back on offense quickly, and exploit the Blackhawks defense.
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
But when Rinne was called upon in that first series, he delivered. The Predators have only allowed 30 shots or more 6 times in thirteen games. In those games, Rinne has delivered one shutout and has held the opposing team to one goal twice more. Rinne’s been a brick wall and the more shots that hit him the better.
The only goaltenders with better goals against averages than Pekka have only played one game, and even then, didn’t start that game. Pekka’s also one of the best stories of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Old goaltender finds his redemption in overcoming former bully, taking his team to the Cup. It’s also been Pekka’s best playoffs statistically, and he deserves to win the Conn Smythe if the Predators take the Cup. And based off of Rinne’s performance, that’s highly possible.