|Rinne looks to add another 'W' as Predators host Leafs|
The NHL holds its annual awards show every summer in Las Vegas.
Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen is making a wager of his own that teammate Pekka Rinne will be hauling in some hardware.
"In our opinion, he's been the most valuable player for us and definitely will be recognized for sure come award time in Vegas this summer," Johansen said.
Rinne, who has emerged as the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, will get a chance to polish his resume Thursday night when Nashville hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 35-year-old Finn stopped 35 shots Monday night in a 4-0 shutout at Buffalo, his career-high eighth of the season. Rinne, who is 40-9-4 with a 2.21 goals-against-average and a career-best .931 save percentage, has won 11 straight starts, dating back to Feb. 19.
In his last five games, Rinne has ceded only five goals on 156 shots. The last time he allowed three goals in a game was in a 4-3 overtime win March 4 at Colorado.
But the stat that impresses Rinne the most is 40 wins. The victory in Buffalo marked the third time in his career he's reached 40, tying five other netminders in the NHL history book. Only the retired Martin Brodeur has enjoyed more 40-victory seasons.
"That's a credit to my teammates big-time, and also my coaching staff," Rinne said. "Over the years, they've trusted me and let me play a lot of games. Even when you win a lot of games, you end up losing some, so you need a lot of people pulling for you."
The last time Rinne lost was more than a month ago. That was also the last time the Predators (48-14-10) lost in regulation. Since then, they are 14-0-1, winning 10 in a row, falling in a shootout to New Jersey and then ripping off four more victories.
That spurt has not only created separation from Winnipeg in the Central Division -- Nashville starts Thursday night with an eight-point lead -- but has allowed it to overtake Tampa Bay for the NHL's best record.
The prize at stake there is home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and anyone who saw the scene last spring in Bridgestone Arena remembers a team feeding off its fans and looking nearly unbeatable.
While the Predators push for the league's best record, Toronto (43-23-7) is fighting an uphill battle to overtake Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs missed a chance to gain two points Tuesday night, blowing a 3-0 second-period lead in Tampa Bay and losing 4-3 as they allowed three goals in the first 10 minutes of the third period.
"They pushed in the third, we didn't respond, didn't handle it," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said to the Toronto Sun. "There are going to be momentum swings in big games all the time. You stay calm and continue to execute."
Wasted were James van Riemsdyk's sixth and seventh goals in four games, giving him a team-high 33, and 21 saves in Frederik Andersen's return from an upper-body injury.
Andersen (33-19-5, 2.82, .918), who traditionally plays well against Nashville, figures to get the start on Thursday night.