Saturday, November 8, 2014

Predators end Blues' winning streak on Neal goal

St. Louis finished stretch of four games 
in six days looking tired, weary in 2-1 defeat

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were riding high with a season-best seven-game winning streak. They were winning in different ways. Goaltending, a red-hot line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz was producing the bulk of the offensive production.

But the Nashville Predators served notice to the rest of the Central Division heavyweights, including the weary Blues on Saturday night: they're not going anywhere.

At least not for the foreseeable future.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian  Elliott (right) stops a puck as teammate Alex Pietrangelo (left) tries
to keep Nashville's Filip Forsberg away Saturday night.

The message was delivered loud and clear to the Blues.

James Neal's third-period goal helped the Predators defeat the Blues 2-1 on Saturday at Scottrade Center and snap St. Louis' seven-game win streak. 

Neal's wrist shot from the left circle after taking a drop pass from Filip Forsberg  with 6:28 remaining helped the Predators rally past the Blues

"I just came in behind Filip and he made a good pass to drop it," Neal said. "It was funny, I told him earlier that I came in behind him and he ripped one. When I came in behind him the second time, he dropped it. He’s playing great."

The shot seemed to catch Blues goalie Brian Elliott off guard.

"I lost it in the bodies in front for a split second there," Elliott said. "I definitely want it back, especially late in the third period in a tied game, but those are going to happen too."

The Predators (9-3-2) finished a six-game trip by going 4-2-0 and winning the final two games and jump over the Blues into first place in the Central Division. They got a goal and an assist from Filip Forsberg, who extended his point streak to five games. Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for Nashville.

"I think it’s a game we marked down our road trip that it was going to be tough," Neal said. "To come in here and be a point behind them, we knew what was at stake. They're on a little roll, and we came in and played a great 60 minutes. It feels good to have won the battle."

The win for the Predators also snapped the Blues' six-game winning streak in this series. St. Louis had won 10 of 11 meetings too.

"When you play a good team like St. Louis, you have to work from start to finish and if you don't, you probably won’t like the results," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "The ebbs and flows from the road trip, I think there were more highs than lows. It’s a real positive to play with some consistency, but it was a great way to end the trip."

The Blues (9-4-1), who saw their seven-game winning streak snapped, got a first-period goal from Jori Lehtera. Brian Elliott made 33 saves for St. Louis, which finished a stretch of four games in six days.

The Blues trudged in what looked like quicksand for large spurts of the game, seemingly chasing the puck and seeing Nashville skaters on top of their every step. 

"We looked slow and indecisive" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We played slow. We didn't have a lot of energy. And there were stretches where they didn't, but I thought they had better energy in the third period. We had a push at the end of the second there, but I thought they had better energy in the third period.

"We had people uncharacteristically making puck errors and looked surprised we were getting checked. We had some dozy play at times. ... We had a lot of pucks that came back to us. We weren't sharp. We looked slow. We looked slow in the head, slow in the feet and we made a lot of tired plays with the puck. We looked like a team that's played a lot of hockey." 

The Blues admitted to tired legs. It was a night that they just didn't have it. Whether it was Nashville's speed and forechecking ability that led to the Blues' ineffectiveness, the combination led to the end result.

"We were a step too late to get in positions we wanted," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who was on the ice for both Predators' goals. "The puck movement was a big slow. The combination of the two is never a good thing."

Lehtera's rebound-goal off Vladimir Tarasenko's shot from the slot produced the lone score of the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. 

Tarasenko cut to the middle of the ice, fired a shot through traffic and Lehtera came in off the right side and slid a backhand past Rinne's outstretched left skate with 5:30 remaining in the period. With linemates Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko getting assists on the goal, the trio now has 17 points in the past five games.

But the Blues got little to nothing else from their other top players, including the line of Paul Stastny, David Backes and Alexander Steen, which was on the ice for both goals against.

"We had too many mistakes, too many tired mistakes," Hitchcock said. "Quite frankly, we're sitting on one line doing everything for us right now. We're going to need a lot more from people if we expect to be good in this division.

"... It wasn't anything they did. They played a good game. There were stretches where we played really strong too, but we had too many mistakes, too many tired mistakes. Quite frankly, we're sitting on one line doing everything for us right now. We're going to need a lot more from people if we expect to be good in this division."

Rinne and Elliott traded key saves late in the first. Rinne prevented a 2-0 Blues lead when he kicked out Backes' effort from in front shortly after Lehtera's goal. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (28) is being pursued by the Predators' Taylor
Beck on Saturday night. Nashville defeated the Blues 2-1, ending St.
Louis' seven-game winning streak.

Elliott's best save came after Olli Jokinen streaked down the middle and had a chance in the slot, but Elliott kicked the shot out with the right pad. 

Forsberg, who has eight points in his past five games, scored his fifth goal in that span and tied the game 1-1 when he beat Elliott from the right circle with a wrist shot glove side 7:20 into the second period.

The way the Predators were pressing, it was a matter of time before they tied the game up.

"I think we were not ready to play," Lehtera said. "You could see it from the guys. Everybody was kind of tired.

"We had heavy boots today. We didn't get our game going. We didn't have speed today."

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