Saturday, February 4, 2012

Opportunistic Predators knock off Blues

Pair of first-period goals seals fate of St.
Louis, which came with a fury in third period

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators continued their mastery of the Blues this season, and they reclaimed fourth place in the Western Conference in the process.

But not without a late Blues comeback attempt.

For the Blues, tonight's game -- particularly the second period -- looked more like a team that hadn't played in 10 days as opposed to last night in a win over Los Angeles.

It cost the Blues at least a point, maybe two after falling behind early.

Martin Erat and Mike Fisher scored first period goals and the Predators beat the Blues for the fourth time this season, 3-1 on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Kris Russell (4) was one of Pekka Rinne's 41 stops Saturday
night in Nashville's 2-1 victory. 

Erat finished with a goal and two assists as the Predators (32-17-4) leapfrogged back in front of the Blues (30-14-7) by one point in the Western Conference with 68. They now have two regulation wins and two shootout victories over the Blues this season and improved to 12-2-2 against Central Division teams this season, winning the last six.

"I thought we were better in the first, they were way, way better in the second and we were better in the third," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They got caught maybe sitting on a 2-0 lead, I don't know. I thought it evened out because they were so much better than we were in the second. Too many passengers in the second period.

"We had a real good start to the game, a real good first period and then I think with five minutes left in the first, they started to take it over. They took it over most of the second and then we took it back in the third."

Pekka Rinne, who has won his last 11 straight starts, continued his mastery of the Blues with his 12th career win against them by backstopping 42 shots. He's stopped 80 of 82 shots against the Blues in two games in this building this season and 147 on 152 shots in four games against the Blues.

"That's a one-on-one battle that we have to win," Blues defenseman Kris Russell said. "We're not doing it in this building. He's a guy we have to target and make sure when we have a one-on-one with him that we make sure we're putting that puck through the back of that net.

"We played better in the third, but we're getting down to the wire. These points are crucial, a division game. We can't just wait for a third-period burst and think we're going to win a hockey game. They're too good of a team to play like that. We have to start the way we finished."

Jaroslav Halak stopped 34 shots, including the final 29 he saw, but fell to 12-2-3 in his last 17 starts. Chris Porter got a third-period goal, but the Blues fell to 9-2-2 in their last 13 games. They're just 3-6-1 in the second of back-to-back games.

The Predators came out with the first two goals to open the game in the first period, with Erat and Fisher getting tallies.

Erat helped the second-ranked power play in the NHL get a goal on their first attempt when he ripped a shot from the high slot past Halak 6 minutes 59 seconds into the game.

The Blues broke down on the second goal, scored by Fisher, when Sergei Kostitsyn was able to curl in front of the Blue paint. He found Fisher on the back side, as Alex Pietrangelo got turned around in coverage and Fisher hammered home his 15th of the season at 12:30.

Matt D'Agostini had a backhand off the cross bar on the Blues' first power play that could have tied the game. They had a 13-5 shots advantage early but as has been the case for this team too often, good opportunities were wasted.

"You're going to get that stuff," Hitchcock said. "It's 2-0 and our goalie is standing on his head in the second period. It's a 1-0 special-teams game, and it's a one-goal game. They scored on the power play and we had the chance there at the end of the game and we don't score.

"Against good teams, you're going to have to win 5-on-5 game and the special teams game, especially on the road. We had too many inconsistent performances throughout the course of the 60 minutes. ... We got everybody in yesterday (against the Kings) and we were only partially dipping our toes in the water today."

Not even a Ryan Reaves heavyweight bout with the Preds' Brian McGrattan could jumpstart the Blues' ineffective play in the second period. They were outshot 17-7 in the middle 20.

"We had some guys that played outstanding today and then we had guys that just dipped their toes in the water," Hitchcock said. "You're not going to beat Nashville in Nashville on a Saturday night. This is like the Coliseum in Rome in this place on a Saturday night. You're going to have to play a lot harder and a lot more gritty than that if you expect to win ... and we did at periods of time but not throughout the hockey game."
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Chris Porter (32) tries to bat a loose puck past Nashville goalie
Pekka Rinne Saturday night.

Porter, who was inserted into the lineup after Jason Arnott (shoulder) was scratched, stripped Preds defenseman Roman Josi of the puck and caught Rinne off-guard with a wrist shot upstairs into the net 4:01 into the third period and gave the Blues some life.

"I was just trying to force (Josi) into making a play," Porter said. "They let my stick get in between his and turned it over and I just put it to the net."

"He was great," Hitchcock said of Porter. "He was our best player today. He was by far our best player. He was hungry, wanted the puck. We talked to him about that when I watched him in the A (American Hockey League). I told him the puck's got to be part of his game, a much bigger part of his game. He was excellent today."

The Blues came on stronger than ever in the third period, outshooting the Preds 20-6 and came across with a different mentality and different message after a lackluster second.

"It was kind of gut-check time for our team after the two periods that we had," Porter said. "The message was Jaro kept us in it for two. Let's go with everything we can in the third and see what happens. Rinne stood on his head in the third."

Russell had the game-tying goal on his stick with 8:42 left, as he collected a rebound of a loose puck at the right side of the net, but Rinne came across and got a shoulder after extending the glove to keep it a one-goal game.

"I thought I made a pretty good move," Russell said. "I got it up high, which I wanted to. I had him at the (near) post. It was unfortunate. Good goalie, he made a good save on the second opportunity when he came sliding across. Those chances, you've got to bear down and put them in."

Kostitsyn added an empty-netter at 19:37 to seal the Predators' win. The Blues outshot Nashville 43-37 in the game.

* NOTES -- Arnott missed the game after injuring his left shoulder in the third period of Friday night's 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Arnott missed his second game of the season, and ironically both have been here when Arnott was to return as a visiting player for the first time since being traded by the Predators in the summer of 2010. He missed with the flu when the Blues were here Dec. 17.

... Hitchcock is now 0-11-6-1 in his last 18 games coached in this building, dating back to a 2-1 win on Feb. 13, 2001 while coach of the Dallas Stars. He's since been in Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis.

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