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Chatting with Predators’ Pekka Rinne about playoff run, Kesler, Vezina chances, Radulov and going country in Nashville

Dmitry Chesnokov
Puck Daddy

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For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators made the Stanley Cup Playoff semifinals before losing to the Vancouver Canucks. In that series, as he had been during the regular season, goalie Pekka Rinne was their MVP, giving the kind of performances that have earned him a trip to Las Vegas as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

I spoke with Rinne recently about the Predators' playoff run; facing Ryan Kesler; Rinne's incredible saves in the postseason; his Vezina nomination; the future of Shea Weber and Alex Radulov in Nashville; Carrie Underwood and Nicole Kidman; the toughest player to defend against in the NHL; as well as what he's driving, what he's watching and what he's drinking. Enjoy!

Q. They say the playoffs breed hate. Do you hate the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks now?

RINNE: I don't think you could say we now hate either one of them. I think "hate" is a pretty strong word. For sure, you don't like them when you play against them, you want to beat them. But I wouldn't say I hate either one of those teams.

What was the mood like inside of the Predators' locker room after the elimination loss to the Canucks ?

There was a feeling of huge disappointed. I don't think anyone in the media believed that we could win that series. But unlike the media, we truly believed we could take on those guys and beat them. We thought we had a real chance. And that's how it was for us. Every game was a one-goal game for most of the time. They were all close. I can honestly say we gave our best. No point of saying what could have been, what would have been. We gave our best.

And after that loss there was a feeling of total emptiness. You play a very long season and then it's tough to realize that this is it. It's a pretty empty feeling.

As a player, does the lack of experience playing deep in the playoffs play a part? Or you don't really think about it?

You get a lot hungrier the further you go in the playoffs. It's the best part of the season and you just want to keep going stronger. But I think the lack of experience played its part. We are a young team, and we can use any bit of experience we can get. But it's amazing how small the difference is between teams in the playoffs.

What are your thoughts on your duel with Roberto Luongo? Did you get a chance to talk to him after the series was over?

Not a lot. Just a little bit. I just wished him good luck. He said the same thing. Nothing too special. He played really well, and it was fun for me to play against him. I think it was a good matchup for us against Vancouver.

Who was the most dangerous player to play against on Vancouver?

I think the whole Kesler line was going really well for them, they played really good. So, if I have to pick just one line, it's definitely the Kesler line. Especially the last three games. I think in a couple of games Kesler was the real difference maker.

Would he be your pick for the Conn Smythe if the Canucks make it all the way?

I think it's too early to say as the second round just ended. There is still a lot of hockey to be played for the team that will eventually win the Cup. And I am sure it is only going to get harder and harder. But if Kesler keeps going like he has been, I am sure he will be one of the top candidates for the award.

Which one of your teammates surprised you the most?

I think all of our young guys. Guys like Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk, Blake Geoffrion — they really elevated their game. Cody Franson too. And obviously Joel Ward had a great second round. As did David Legwand. But this is how our team is. Throughout the season we always had someone stepping up. We don't really have that one line that scores goals. We have to expect all four lines to chip in. We have all our guys working really hard every night and come through the a couple of important goals. I am really, really proud of our young guys.

You made some pretty good saves too in the playoffs. What did it feel like to make that save on Teemu Selanne in Round 1, stopping your legendary countryman?

Ha! It's always fun to make a big save. But to do it against a guy like him…  At that moment you don't really think about it. But after the game you get a chance to look back and think "Oh, that was Selanne?"  But it was a big save because we ended up winning that game and it was a good start for us, for our playoffs.

What was a better save: That one against Selanne, or the one against Kevin Bieksa in overtime of Game 2 against the Canucks?

The Bieksa save made a bigger impact because it was in overtime. Had he scored we would have been 2-0 in the series, so because that save had a bigger impact, I'd have to say it was a better save.

Some players watch their highlights on YouTube. Do you do the same?

No, no. Usually I watch certain footage the day after the game. I can't call them highlights, I just watch the video to see what my mistakes were, what I have to improve on before the next game. Or see what I did right and what I should continue doing. Stuff like that.

Tell us honestly, what do you think of Shea Weber's playoff beard?

His playoff beard? [laughing]  It was pretty massive, man!  He let it grow for a couple of months. He started before the playoffs. But it was pretty cool!  He had a big beard, and he is a big dude. He is definitely a guy who can pull it off to have a beard like that.

He is a restricted free agent this summer. How important is it for the Nashville Predators that he stays?

It is crucial. It's as simple as that. He is our captain, our top player. It's crucial not only for us, players, but for the entire organization. To be able to keep him would obviously be huge. Huge. I think everybody knows that. I am sure there will be a lot of competition for him. There are a lot of teams who would like to have him, for sure. But so do we. I am sure we'll do everything to keep him.

You live in Nashville, the country music capital. You have a lot of stars coming to your games like Carrie Underwood, Nicole Kidman. Is this anything players are aware of or care about or noticed?

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No, not really. A lot of times we wouldn't even know about it until after the game. Most of the time someone in the locker room would say such and such was at the game. You don't really notice those things during the game, don't pay attention to it. But it's pretty cool. I am sure it's cool for the fans, too, to know that stars come to hockey games and are into hockey. It's very cool.

You play in the Western Conference. You play against Eastern teams as well. Is it fair to say that the Western Conference is a lot stronger than the Eastern?

Hmm, it's a tough question. We don't play a lot against Eastern teams. We usually only face them once. It's very rare that we face the same team twice in a season. The hockey they play is a little different. I think Eastern hockey is a little bit more like trading chances, a little bit more open. And in the West it's so tight. There is no big difference between teams in the West. The Western Conference was very even this season. The Eastern Conference is even too, but Western teams are very close to being on the same level. There are teams that can create a gap in the standings between themselves and the rest, but there are just a couple of teams that can really do that.

Playing in this tight conference you were nominated for the Vezina Trophy. What do you think your chances are?  Or is this Tim Thomas' trophy?

We'll see. It's GMs who vote in that. But it is going to be very interesting to see, because Tim Thomas is from the East and Roberto Luongo and I are from the West. Obviously, the kind of season Tim Thomas had was unbelievable. His numbers are ridiculous. But I am happy to have been nominated. I am excited about going to Las Vegas, I am really looking forward to that, to having a good time. I am just honored to have been nominated.

A certain talk comes up every offseason regarding the Nashville Predators and Alexander Radulov. But this season there is a real expectation that Radulov may indeed come back to the NHL. You played with him a little bit. If he comes back, what do you think the reaction will be in the locker room?  Will players forgive him?

We, players, never speak about this topic. I think everyone has put it behind. He made his choice at the time and he has been playing [in the KHL] for the last three years. It's been a long time, and it's all in the past now. We have put it behind us. It is going to be interesting. No one thinks about that at the moment. But there is no doubt he is a great, great player. He would definitely make our team better. There aren't that many players on the current team who played with him. For the younger guys and for other guys he will be just like a new player. There are absolutely no hard feelings. If he comes, he will make the Predators a better team.

Growing up, who was your inspiration when you decided to become a goalie?

It was such a big deal when the Finnish National team won the World Championships in 1995 with Jarmo Myllys in goal. At the time he was probably everybody's favorite player in Finland. Including me. When I got a little bit older I started following other goalies, like Miikka Kiprusoff. But actually, for me the guy who made the biggest impact, who was the biggest influence on me was my cousin. My cousin is five years older than me and he was a goalie growing up. He only played junior hockey, but he was the guy I always looked up to. I always thought it was so cool that he was a goalie and I thought to myself 'I want to become a goalie some day.'

As a goalie, do you have any special routines you do before games?

I do have some routines, but I don't really have any superstitions. My habits became my routines like taking naps at exactly the same time, having pregame meals at exactly the same time on game days, eating pretty much exactly the same thing on game days. I put my gear on in exactly the same order. But nothing crazy. What would be the weirdest one?  I have to have the same drinks during the game. I have to drink a little bit of coffee in between periods. Yeah, I don't really have anything that crazy. And even if I do, I won't say.

Who is the toughest player you played against in the NHL?

When Sidney Crosby was healthy, he was so dynamic, so dominant on the ice. When we played them here in Nashville, I think we lost in overtime, he scored a couple of goals against me. I think he was the best player in the NHL before he got hurt. You can say that he is a model of a playmaker, a model of a passer, but he can shoot the puck. He has a good shot. He is a really smart player, he is so hard to read. But we play those guys so rarely.

Of the guys we play a lot, I have to say that Pavel Datsyuk is the best one. I have always been a huge fan of his, I think he is just an amazing player. I am telling you, I have to cross my fingers when I am playing against him. He does so much on the ice. He was great in the series against the Sharks even though he was hurt. The level he is constantly playing at is unbelievable. His moves, his tricks are so unbelievable and he made them in the playoffs. He is a fun player to watch.

You have lived in Nashville for so long. Are you a country music fan now?

It's kind of growing on me. Growing up we never really had country music in Finland. But now I am kind of a big country music fan now. I have been to a few concerts, and it's music I like nowadays. Zac Brown Band is probably my favorites. I like them a lot.

What are you driving these days?

I have an Audi S5. It's a pretty fast car. But I don't really drive that much because I live really close to our practice rink.

What is the last good movie or a TV show you saw?

When my friends came over from Finland they brought over a couple of Finnish movies I had fun watching. Until then I hadn't really seen any movies or TV shows. I rarely go to movies. But I do follow a couple of shows like "Prison Break" or "Entourage."

Are you a part of the social network?

I have a Facebook page that I run together with my sports agency. So, stop by. And there is a lot of information on my official page at www.pekkarinne.com.

And finally, what is your adult beverage of choice?

I am more of a beer guy. I also enjoy wine with dinner. But when I relax, I go for beer. I am a big fan of wheat beer, German beers. Paulaner is my favorite beer. I think it's great beer.

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