By LOUIE KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What else would be expected from a Blues game against Nashville? Coming into Thursday's Central Division battle, the two teams saw 11 of the previous 15 games decided by one goal.
Make it 12 of 16.
Facing their first true test of the season after winning two at home to start, an inauspicious first period did in the Blues for the first time this season.
Doing a lot of chasing against a team that had played 24 hours earlier in Chicago, the Blues had their ears pinned back against a relentless Nashville Predators team in the opening 20 minutes.
Steve Sullivan, a known Blues killer throughout his career, tallied a pair of goals, Patric Hornqvist scored a goal and assisted on another, and Cal O'Reilly assisted on three others as the Predators continued their mastery over the Blues, winning 4-3 Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Blues (2-1-0) are now 9-19-9 in the last 37 games against the Predators since the start of the 2005-06 season.
Both teams came into the Central Division battle with identical 2-0-0 marks, but it was Nashville (3-0-0) that seemed to have the fresh legs in the first when it scored three times on 11 shots, including Sullivan's pair. Sullivan now has 21 career goals and 49 points in 57 career games against the Blues.
The Predators skated with precision and pressured in the offensive zone relentlessly against the Blues, who had not played since Monday afternoon.
"We dug ourselves a nice sized hole against a team that was in our face, pressure hockey all night long," Blues forward David Backes said. "It took us maybe 30 minutes that they were going to come hard all night."
The Blues, who were 2-for-5 on the power play while getting goals from Matt D'Agostini, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, were fighting from the start when Marcel Goc scored 56 seconds into the game.
A pair of penalties 10 seconds apart by Brad Boyes and Eric Brewer led to Sullivan's first of the game with a two-man advantage for a 2-0 lead 11:14 into the game, and Sullivan scored again at 13:52, just 15 seconds after D'Agostini got his team-leading third of the season and third in two games.
"Their first goal off the start was a simple three on three rush and we don't get it cleaned up," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We were slow to react, slow to move our feet, end up with two penalties based on not moving our feet. Now all of the sudden, you're trying to chase from behind against a pretty good hockey team.
"I don't think we should be surprised by how hard Nashville plays in this building. I don't think we brought enough attention to the first period."
The Blues outshot the Predators 12-11 in that first period and continued to pour it on in the second and got to within 3-2 when Oshie intercepted a Joel Ward clearing attempt, dangled the puck around a sliding Shea Weber and beat rookie Anders Lindback 8:15 into the second to make it 3-2.
"My goal kind of sparked us a little bit," Oshie said. "It's hard to battle back from four goals.
"They came out a little harder than we expected with them playing last night (at Chicago). It kind of surprised us, which probably shouldn't happen. They outworked us."
The Blues dominated the early part of the second, at one point outshooting the Predators 10-1 but they could never get the equalizer.
"We were moving our feet a heck of a lot better," Payne said. "I thought we were moving to support our puck possessions, making things happen coming out of our own end and consequently, we were moving in the offensive zone with a little more pace and the forecheck was more effective. It was really just getting our game up to the speed that they were playing."
The back-breaking goal was Hornqvist's power play goal with 3:39 left in the second that made it 4-2. Jaroslav Halak was able to stop the one-timer from O'Reilly from the top of the left circle, but Halak left the rebound at his skates and Hornqvist popped home the eventual game-winner, his fourth career goal in seven games against the Blues.
Berglund converted a power play goal 5:13 into the final period but Lindback, making only his second NHL start, backstopped the Blues the rest of the way. The Blues outshot Nashville 35-22 in the game.
"We were maybe the better team in the last half, but it's tough to come back after you spot them three," Backes said. "We made a few adjustments and started playing a little bit faster and met their level. ... Gotta hand it to them for the first 30 minutes, they brought it to us. They were dumping pucks in all night long and they had their guys in our (defensemen's) face before they can turn up and make a play. It resulted in a lot of zone time in our end. Obviously it's tough to score from 200 feet away."
Nashville has now won five in a row in the series between these teams and improved to an astounding 16-0-1 in their last 17 one-goal games dating back to Feb. 10.
Alex Steen's first-period assist was the 200th point of his career.