NHL.com: Smith and Rinne are keys to their teams' success

Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 11:27 AM CT / Nashville Predators Playoffs Coverage
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NHL.com: Smith and Rinne are keys to their teams\' success

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They combined for 81 wins this season. Both finished in the top 10 in games played, minutes played, total saves, save percentage and shutouts -- and both are the focal point of teams built on defense and constructed from the net out.

When the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes meet in the Western Conference Semifinals beginning Friday, Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Phoenix's Mike Smith will be the centers of attention, in the eye of the storm and most likely the major reason one team will reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

On Tuesday, Rinne was named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second straight season -- joining Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Jonathan Quick of the Kings -- on the strength of his 43 wins. Another potential nominee was Smith, who came from nowhere this season to carry the Coyotes to a playoff berth with 38 wins, a 2.21 goals-against average and eight shutouts.

Smith spearheaded Phoenix's first-round win against Chicago by frustrating the high-powered Blackhawks at every turn. He stopped 229 of 241 shots, held the Blackhawks to two goals or fewer in five of six games and capped the series with a 4-0 shutout in a game where his team was outshot 28-8 through two periods.

But to put Smith in as a Vezina finalist, someone else would have been left out. A tough call?

"I guess so, unless you've watched him as much as we've watched him this year," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said of Smith. "All of those guys are such good [goalies], but I can't see anybody being better than our guy.

"The funny thing is everyone just thinks he's playing unbelievable right now. Well, did you see the month of February (when he went 11-0 and was the NHL Player of the Month)? How about the month of December? He probably had about 4-5 games he would be unhappy with throughout the year. The rest of the time, he was that good all year."

While Rinne -- who celebrated signing a seven-year, $49 million contract extension Nov. 3 with a 3-0 shutout of the Coyotes -- was building his resume last season, Smith was on the waiver wire in Tampa Bay, sitting third on the depth chart and uncertain about his future.

However, Smith not only fashioned a career year in the 2011-12 season, but he's proven to be everything his predecessor, Ilya Bryzgalov, was not in the postseason. Smith was the target of boos whenever he touched the puck during three games at the United Center, and responded with three wins, allowing just four goals and admitting that all the attention and animosity motivated him even more.

He said he's looking forward to the matchup with Rinne, whom he has gotten to know through mutual friends in Nashville.

"He's a great guy and an unbelievable goalie, just an athletic guy that competes as hard as anyone out there," Smith said. "We're going to have to elevate our game, try to get as much traffic, people and pucks to the net as we can, and hopefully we'll find a way to get a pass in."

In addition to Rinne, the Predators have plenty of offensive firepower, led by forward Alexander Radulov, a late addition to seven players who had at least 40 points this season. They also have the 1-2 blue-line punch of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and no apparent weaknesses to exploit.

The Coyotes have a belief that the sum of their parts up and down the roster makes them a tough out -- and they have Smith, a goaltender they can lean on.

"We don't have the luxury of having those highly talented players," Smith said. "But everyone is on board with what we're being taught, what we're being coached. I think the biggest thing about winning in the playoffs is playing as a group and believing in what we're doing to get us through hockey games. I think that's what's made us successful all season."

Author: Jerry Brown | NHL.com Correspondent

SMASHVILLE CENTRAL

SCHEDULE
 

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS
 

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 CHI 58 36 18 4 160 134 76
2 DAL 55 35 15 5 178 147 75
3 STL 56 30 17 9 133 130 69
4 LAK 53 32 18 3 146 124 67
5 SJS 53 28 20 5 154 143 61
6 ANA 53 26 19 8 120 125 60
7 COL 57 28 25 4 153 158 60
8 NSH 54 25 21 8 139 144 58
9 MIN 54 23 21 10 133 134 56
10 VAN 54 22 20 12 125 144 56
11 ARI 53 24 23 6 139 163 54
12 CGY 53 25 25 3 143 156 53
13 WPG 54 24 27 3 139 157 51
14 EDM 56 22 29 5 138 168 49

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
R. Josi 54 11 27 -3 38
F. Forsberg 54 17 18 -7 35
S. Weber 54 14 21 -5 35
M. Ribeiro 54 6 27 2 33
J. Neal 54 19 13 18 32
M. Ekholm 54 6 18 3 24
R. Ellis 53 6 16 2 22
C. Smith 54 11 7 -2 18
C. Jarnkrok 53 9 8 0 17
C. Wilson 37 4 12 -1 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Rinne 20 18 7 .903 2.54
C. Hutton 5 2 1 .916 2.36