Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy Breaks Down The Vezina Race, Rinne and Thomas Favorites

Out of all the NHL postseason awards in 2010-11, the race for the Vezina Trophy has featured Tim Thomas jogging alone with the rest of the League’s top goaltenders about five miles back.

The Boston Bruins netminder still leads the League in goals against average (2.03), save percentage (.938) and is third in shutouts (7). The latest NHL power rankings in USA Today saw him collect 11 out of 12 first-place votes, as he has for most of the season.

Second on that list? Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Just like he’s second in GAA (2.09) and save percentage (.929) to Thomas, having started seven more games — although, incredibly, Thomas has faced more shots (1,554) than Rinne (1,532) despite appearing in five fewer games overall.

Does Rinne have a case in the Vezina Trophy debate? He could have a mano-y-mano showdown with Thomas tonight, provided they both start, with the Predators chasing a playoff spot in the West.

Nashville Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn talked to the Tennessean about Thomas ahead of tonight’s game, while Coach Barry Trotz offered his thoughts on Pekka Rinne:

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Korn said. “The thing that makes him unique is he doesn’t play like anybody else. He rarely makes the same save twice. He’s just a very athletic, dynamic guy.”

Many are saying the same about Rinne, who began the season as the starter, missed some time early on with an injury, but returned to an elite level. “We’re very fortunate that we have one of the top goaltenders and that’s why we’re in the position where we can get into the playoffs right now,” Trotz said. “He’s not only a Vezina candidate, but probably a Hart candidate as well.”

It’s interesting to see how many goalies could actually make a convincing Hart Trophy, rather than Vezina, case this season.

Depending on how voters feel about the contributions of Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s not out of the question that Thomas could be the third candidate for the trophy with Daniel Sedin and, as has become increasingly likely, Jonathan Toews. But Rinne, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and even Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins can make MVP arguments.

Can Rinne catch Thomas? It’s a question the Preds blog On The Forecheck asked last week:

Unfortunately, Nashville’s remaining opponents score goals at a significantly better clip than do the Bruins (largely a part of playing in the Western Conference). Unless Thomas falls apart and Rinne turns it up to eleven, I don’t see Nashville’s netminder topping the NHL leaderboard in the two most important goalie stats. What I do see, however, is Thursday’s game with the Bruins being a must-watch …

Around 60 percent of the respondents in their poll about Rinne catching Thomas statistically said they believed he wouldn’t. These are smart people.

The only valid argument against Thomas is games played, and it’s not even one Rinne can make. (Carey Price, on the other hand, has 60 starts to Thomas’s 46.) After the 30 NHL GMs vote, it’ll be the Bruins goalie’s award.

Were it not for him, it should be Rinne’s … although, you know, the Nashville thing comes into play there. The Predators have won exactly one postseason award in their franchise history: Steve Sullivan’s Masterton in 2009. No Jack Adams for Barry Trotz. No Vezina for Vokoun or his successors, or Norris for Shea Weber.

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