Thursday, March 6, 2014

Blues lock down Predators for third straight win

Cole, Paajarvi provide goals in 2-1 victory; 
Miller moves to 3-0 after stopping 21 shots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues rely so much on their known commodities, it was some of the guys carrying the back-end of the team's success that stepped to the front of the offensive output.

And in the process, those unsung performers kept the Blues unbeaten in regulation when leading after two periods.

Ian Cole had the second two-point game of his career with a goal and an assist, and Magnus Paajarvi's go-ahead goal midway through the second period provided the Blues two more crucial points at the start of a three-game trip with a 2-1 victory against the Nashville Predators Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Magnus Paajarvi (left) and Ryan Reaves (75) helped the Blues win their
third in a row, 2-1 against Michael Del Zotto (5) and the Predators.

Ryan Miller stopped 20 shots to improve to 3-0 since arriving in St. Louis a week ago Friday.

The Blues, who improved to 27-0-4 when leading after two periods, remained two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks in a hotly contested Central Division race with 90 points. The Hawks clobbered Columbus 6-1 at home Thursday night. The Colorado Avalanche, who the Blues face on Saturday, continue to chase both the Hawks and the Blues. They're three points behind St. Louis after a 3-2 overtime win at Detroit.

The Blues also improved to 16-0-1 against the Central Division and they've won 14 straight against those division foes.

The win tonight for the Blues is the eighth time they have had a winning streak of three or more games this season.

Both Cole and Paajarvi have been in and out of the lineup for the Blues (42-14-6) throughout the season, but both contributed in a big way.

But when coach Ken Hitchcock was asked about Paajarvi, he did not allow it to go unnoticed that linemates Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves were collectively good with Paajarvi.

"That whole line did. The line was outstanding," Hitchcock said. "They put a lot of pressure on them on the forecheck. They've really found a strong identity, which is good. They were very effective, especially we were able to play them deep in the third period, which really helps us.

"It's nice to see when you can play 10, 12 minutes of your fourth line and have no problem putting him out against anybody."

The Blues, in typical Blues fashion, played a lockdown, shutdown style of game against a Predators team that fell a game under .500 (26-27-10) but still strong.

"We gave them, until the 4-on-4 in the third period, we went through 35 minutes of hockey and gave them nothing," Hitchcock said of the Predators, who the Blues have beaten nine of the past 10 times and five straight in Nashville. "We had lots (of chances). 

"It's one of those games where you're a little bit nervous that it's going to come back and bite you on the missed opportunities, the goal posts (and) the cross bars. But out guys stuck with it. I thought we played a really good second period and I thought we played a great third."

And Miller, who's seen 63 total shots in three games and stopped 58, was more than appreciative. He's gone from seeing 35 shots per game in Buffalo to averaging 21 in three games with the Blues.

"Every night, these guys track hard," Miller said of his new teammates. "They know where to be. They make the game easy to read. I'm still trying to get used to the west a little bit.

"These guys play strong hockey. They prove that they can win in many different ways. It's a good team effort. These guys play strong hockey."

Cole's third goal of the season and fifth of his career gave the Blues a quick 1-0 lead just 4:03 into the game. Steve Ott picked up his first point with the Blues when he won a faceoff back to Cole, whose wrister beat Rinne high glove side. It was the first time the Blues have scored the first goal in five games since resuming play following the Olympics.

"'Otter' had a great win right back to me," Cole said. "I just kind of waited for traffic to get to the net. I then shot it high to the far side. I don't think he saw it. He's got a pretty good glove. It's tough to beat his glove from that far out."

But it was slim pickings offensively for the Blues the rest of the period, as they went without a shot after Oshie's fourth for the team in the period with 15:28 remaining.

Nick Spaling tied the game 1-1 at 10:28 of the first when his redirection of a Patric Hornqvist pass from in tight went over Miller's shoulder.

It was the only blemish on Miller's scoresheet, but as all the greats will do, they strive for greatness and Miller feels like with repetitions, those are plays he can prevent.

"That first goal, I should know better," Miller said. "It's something that the boys mentioned. ... Those are the little things I'm looking to learn and snuff those out of the game. 

"I just thought the guy (Hornqvist) was going to throw it at my pads. I didn't think it would be a passing play. I took the short side and didn't get a good move on that one."

The Blues got more offensive zone pressure and their forecheck going in the second period, but it was a speed move by Paajarvi that got the Blues the lead again. 

Paajarvi pushed the puck forward and blew past Mike Fisher before beating Rinne with a wrister off the far post just inside the right dot 8:18 into the period for a 2-1 Blues lead.

Paajarvi has pulled that move before, and once given a sniff, pounces. But it's an instinctive play and one a player has to read.

"I would say both," Paajarvi said. "You have to be smart about it. You're not going pass everybody. This one, I kind of surprised myself that I got past (Fisher) and all of the sudden, I had a half breakaway. You have to be smart about it for sure.

"I tried to get a quick shot. Tried to move it a little bit sideways and (make Rinne) open up. He's so big and covers so much. You have to get him a little bit on the side of you want to score. I got lucky there."

The Blues had a chance to increase the lead by two goals, but Rinne gloved Alexander Steen's penalty shot with 4:33 left in the period after Steen picked off Roman Josi along the right boards at the red line and sped in alone before being hooked on the play.

Steen scored his only other penalty shot in his career against Florida's Tim Thomas on Oct. 5, the second game of the season.

It snapped a string of four straight regular season penalty shot goals by the Blues and eight of nine. Patrik Berglund was unsuccessful Feb. 18, 2012 against Minnesota's Josh Harding.

Barret Jackman hit the post early in the third period and Derek Roy was stopped in tight by Rinne after a Nashville turnover at the blue line that could have extended the lead.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan Miller stopped 21 of 22 shots Thursday to improve 
to 3-0 to begin his Blues career with a 2-1 victory against 
the Nashville Predators Thursday night.

But the Blues were able to lock it down and protect the one-goal lead. They only allowed five Nashville shots over the final 20 minutes and made it easier on Miller.

"Obviously they're a very hard team to play against," Cole said of the Predators. "They obviously have the ability to hurt you, especially if you give them a lot of opportunities. 

"I think it was definitely a focus for us to play as hard defensively as we could and not give them anything. Make them generate everything they get. I think we did a good job for the most part in limiting their chances."

"I think if we keep playing the way we are, we're going to be able to extend some leads," said Hitchcock, who moved within one victory of tying Ron Wilson's 648 wins for seventh on the all-time coaching victories list. "We're getting a lot of scoring chances now doing a lot of good things. We've got a chance to extend some leads if we just stay with it."

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