Rinne on “unreal” Smith: “He was the difference in the series”

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Now this is how you pump a goalie’s tires.

Pekka Rinne — Nashville’s Vezina-nominated, $49-million man — spent a good chunk of his post-elimination presser talking up the guy that out-dueled him over the five-game series, Phoenix’s Mike Smith.

“Their goalie was unreal,” Rinne told Fox Sports Arizona. “He was the difference in this series.”

Smith’s performance in the series including a 168-minute, 45-second shutout streak that covered parts of three games. All told, the 30-year-old stopped 150 of 159 shots against Nashville (a .943 save percentage) and allowed just four goals over the course of Games 3, 4 and 5.

“Smitty was unbelievable in the net,” Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata said. “It was a big effort by everybody, but Smitty was a huge part of it.”

Smith has been huge throughout the playoffs. He leads the league in shots faced (400) despite playing over 90 minutes less than Braden Holtby, No. 2 on the list. He’s also making a strong case to become just the third goalie to win the Conn Smythe since the lockout, though Phoenix would have to be in the Cup final for him to merit consideration.

Of course, Phoenix in the Cup final is now a totally reasonable scenario.

“In the playoffs, you need great goaltending — it just goes without saying,” said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. “If you have great goaltending, you’ve got a chance every night.”