Sunday, May 7, 2017

Blues season comes to close with 3-1 loss to Predators

Nashville advances to conference final for first time in 
history; St. Louis fails to build off good start, fall in six games

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was the kind of start the Blues were looking for ... again.

But this time, they scored early, in a must-win situation Game 6 to try and keep their season alive against the Nashville Predators.

But the same script unfolded in the end in Music City, and the Predators will march on to the Western Conference Final after defeating the Blues, 3-1, on Sunday before 17,240 at Bridgestone Arena to win the best-of-7 second-round series 4-2.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (right) scores the Blues' first goal past Predators goalie Pekka
Rinne in the first period of Game 6 Sunday. The Blues lost the game 3-1. 

It was a similar ending to three games in this building in which the Blues scored three goals, a grand total of one in each game. Paul Stastny scored 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the game and quieted the crowd down and having that oh-no, not-again feeling for the Predators and their fans.

But this time, Nashville closed the deal.

Goals by Roman Josi early in the second, a Ryan Johansen tie-breaking goal early in the third and an empty-netter from Calle Jarnkrok to seal it also sealed the Blues' fate.

"Yeah again, one goal ... it's frustrating," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said, exuding frustration. "The last couple games we've done a good job ... it's just frustrating that's all."

The Blues were trying to force a Game 7 on Tuesday at Scottrade Center but instead, will likely meet the media for locker cleanup and players will head off to their offseason destinations.

"It's tough. We're all speaking from emotion right now, but yeah, it was a good series," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "Every game was really close. Jake stood on his head. Gave ourselves a chance. We just ended up on the wrong side of it.

"They did a good job, they're a good club over there. They did a good job of shutting us down."

The Blues welcomed back Alexander Steen, who missed Game 5 because of a broken foot sustained in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

Steen, who blocked a shot in Game 4 that made the injury worse around the affected area, could not go in the last game but was available to play -- and play effectively -- in a do-or-die game.

"It's not just me, though," Steen said, detracting attention off himself. "It's everybody. There's guys in here playing with shoulders, hips, knees, feet, heels. You name it. Guys dig in here. I think we put a lot of pride in it. I think you can see it in the way they play.

"It might sound odd, but it's the fun part of it. It's the (togetherness) As a team, you grow so close in playoffs. I think the type of season we've had and then going into the playoffs and then ... I wish everybody could see what goes on within these four walls because it's pretty special. Guys always have each other's backs. It's a pretty tight-knit group."

The Blues got the early jump, getting seven of their nine shots in the first two minutes and scoring first when Stastny popped home a loose puck that got behind Rinne after Tarasenko's wrist shot from the right circle 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the game.

The Blues blocked nine of Nashville's 17 directed shots at the net in the first.

It's the first time the Predators have allowed an even-strength goal in the first period in these playoffs.

"Well definitely a great start, obviously it was great grabbing the first goal," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I think that they started to push back a little bit, maybe they were nervous at the beginning, I'm not sure. But they really started to push back. We went to the penalty box a little bit too much there early and it took a little bit of momentum away from us. It was still right there for us all game long and then obviously a couple of mistakes that we made end up in the back of the net and we couldn't find a way ... it's tough, Jake (Allen) did an unreal job, he was so good, but obviously we've got to give him a little bit more support than that."

The good first period was quickly wiped out by Josi's goal 35 seconds into the second period to the tie the game 1-1 after a puck cycle near the blue line that allowed Mattias Ekholm to slide a cross-ice pass to an open Josi for a one-timer from the right circle after the Blues got caught with four skaters on the same side of the ice.

"They had chances here and there and the crowd was loud, but when they had chances and had the puck, I think we kept to the outside," Stastny said. "They had more breakaways or 2-on-1s when we were pressing a bit. I think before when it was 1-1 we played a pretty good game leading up to that and once they made it 2-1, human nature we were getting overly aggressive doing everything we could trying to get one and couldn't get it."

And it was Johansen's goal that turned out to be the back-breaker 3:15 into the third period on a pinch by Parayko that went awry, and Nashville came back with a 2-on-1 with Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson saucered a pass over Jay Bouwmeester, and Johansen deked to his backhand and slid the puck past Allen.

"Certainly after they scored. I looked at their second goal and it's borderline as far as whether we're too aggressive there or if it's just not a quick enough read by us," Yeo said. "But certainly after they scored that second goal, we kind of got away from the things that we were doing as far as protecting ourselves and obviously giving up breakaways and 2-on-1's is not a good formula."

And once the Blues had to chase the game, it opened the ice, and Nashville was able to get a number of odd-man rushes, but Allen, who made 15 saves, didn't see a ton of rubber but the ones he did see were Grade-A scoring chances; he stopped Filip Forsberg and Colton Sissons on breakaway attempts to keep the game within one shot.

"Not just today, he's done it every game," Steen said of Allen. "That's what's been so incredible about him. He's done it each and every game in playoffs. 

"You know what I think of him; I've talked about him for years now. I think he's one of the best goaltenders in the league. I think when we put in our push here in the third, I think we were a little bit too aggressive too early. I think we could have stuck with our game plan a little bit more. We pushed early and got a little aggressive and gave up some chances and he's there. When he made that one breakaway save, I thought we were going to come back and get one there. That was huge. There were a couple of them, but that one there at the six-minute mark."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne shake hands 
at the end of the game Sunday, a series Nashville won in six games.

The Blues, who outshot the Predators 24-18, couldn't find the tying goal, and when they found themselves in prime scoring areas, players were off target.

"First off a lot of credit to Nashville, like congratulations to them, they played a great series and they're a real strong team, but it hurts right now for us," Yeo said. "We felt like there was moments in this series where we could have grabbed it, there was times where we felt like it was winnable, like we could have come out on the other side. They definitely deserve to be moving on, but we feel ... it stinks, I hate it, I hate to say it. But we'll learn from this and we'll find a way to get better."

* NOTES -- With Steen back for Game 6, the Blues kept Dmitrij Jaskin in the lineup and instead scratched Magnus Paajarvi. ... And with another Game 6 loss, the Blues are now 0-8 in the pst eight Game 6's and outscored 32-14 dating to April 21, 2001, a 2-1 win at the San Jose Sharks.

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