Tempers flare after a stoppage in a Central division rivalry between the Blues and Predators (photo courtesy: Jeff Curry, USA Today Sports)
Blues. Predators. Hockey fans, you already know where this is going.
The St. Louis Blues (33-23-6) grabbed their 12th win in February and fourth win against the Nashville Predators (37-23-5) this season in a game that looked like a Stanley Cup final match (and a potential preamble matchup for this postseason). Despite playing yesterday against Edmonton, Nashville came out hitting hard and skating fast, but it wasn’t enough to break down the offensive precision and chemistry the Blues displayed amongst all four lines and all three pairings.
Juuse Saros, despite being the losing netminder tonight, played spectacularly to keep his team in the game, stopping 42 of 44 shots. On the victorious side, Jordan Binnington stopped all 19 shots faced and earned his 5th shutout as a rookie and improved to 7-0-0 on home ice – just the 4th rookie goaltender in NHL history to achieve such a feat. The Blues improve to 34-23-6 while the Predators fall to 37-24-5.
The game opened like most games between the Blues and Predators: as high-octane and energetic as a Stanley Cup contest. The Blues made a statement on the opening shift with a great one-on-one chance from Jaden Schwartz. Both clubs would keep the action up and down at a red-hot pace, but the goaltenders Juuse Saros and Jordan Binnington would keep poised and confident in net.
The physicality from all sides would define the game as well, with big hits from players like P.K. Subban and Patrick Maroon to even new guys like Sammy Blais, who was called up today in emergency relief for Alex Steen.
Despite marvelous chances on both ends of the ice and a St. Louis powerplay chance, no one could find the back of the net after the first 20. St. Louis would (stop me if you’ve heard this before) outshoot their opponent 15-10.
The Blues and Predators would pick up right where they left off, fast and physical. The Blues passing and forechecking, however, would give them a big edge in generating chances and granting them zone time. A penalty on Bozak would give Nashville’s powerplay a chance to operate, to no avail thanks to the penalty kill of St. Louis. Saros played well to keep his team tied, and the physical response of the Predators would reach a boiling point when Subban laid out rookie Makenzie MacEachern, and his teammate Ivan Barbashev had finally seen enough. Both would receive offsetting roughing minors at 10:57 which opened up the ice in both directions. The top and bottom lines for St. Louis got to work generating a flurry of solid chances. The middle lines bolstered the defensive end to keep Binnington’s cage puck-free. The final few minutes of the second evolved into a total track meet, with odd-man rushes and scoring attempts flying back and forth faster than even the broadcasters could track. Still, the period would remain empty, with the Blues allowing Nashville just four shots on net. Shot count after 40, St. Louis 24-14.
The Blues would stick to the working formulas of the first two periods and continued peppering Juuse Saros with grade-A chances and stayed frustrating in their own zone. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Ryan Johansen late after the whistle gave the Blues their second powerplay of the evening. Despite not scoring, a brilliant keep-in play by Vladimir Tarasenko and a perfect pass to Tyler Bozak helped break Saros and the ice. Bozak netted his tenth of the season, with Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo adding assists.
The Blues didn’t let off the gas and continued to push Nashville into their defensive areas. Nashville just couldn’t find a way through St. Louis’ defense and were forced into last resort by pulling Saros with less than 90 seconds in the game. However, Subban would be charged with an interference penalty towards the final minute of the game, and an intercept by Pietrangelo in the neutral zone helped him grab the powerplay empty netter and his tenth goal of the year, making it 2-0 St. Louis five seconds before the buzzer sounded.
The Predators, now losing their third in their last six, were certainly frustrated. “Bottom line, we need to play better,” forward Ryan Ellis told Lyndsay Rowley afterwards. “We didn’t do a good enough job in front of [Juuse Saros] and he played amazing. He deserved better in the end.” Wayne Simmonds, playing his first game as a Predator tonight, recognized their mistakes as well. “I don’t think we played well from the start of it. Maybe if we capitalize on one of those power plays, it’s a different story.” Blues’ coach Craig Berube gave a lot of credit to the players for their efforts not just tonight but over the past two months: “I thought we stayed with our game plan and never tried to open it up too much… we’ve been competing hard and playing hard. We’re playing our game night in and night out.”
The Blues earned a valuable “4-point” win over a likely playoff competitor in Nashville and continued to prove that their 12th win in February has been no fluke. The Blues found their chemistry and flow against an albeit tired Nashville team, and proved that even with injuries and sicknesses of their own, this club still has the potential to pull one of the greatest comeback seasons the league has seen in years. The Blues and Predators remain 3rd and 1st in the Central (respectively), but with a Winnipeg loss tonight the Blues move to within four points of second place.
The Blues will head to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Friday at 7:30 ET while the Predators will look to rebound against the Winnipeg Jets Friday at 8 ET. Ways to listen and watch both those contests are as follows:
STL@CAR: FSMW, FSCR, KMOX, WCMC
NSH@WPG: FSTN, TSN, WPRT, CFRW
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