Sunday, April 30, 2017

Predators grab series lead with 3-1 victory over Blues

Penalties hurt St. Louis much like 
Game 1; Allen gave team chance with 31 saves

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues entered Sunday's pivotal Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round series with the Nashville Predators feeling good about themselves despite surrendering home ice advantage.

The Blues had been 12-1-1 the past 14 games on the road going back to March 5 in the regular season and outscored the opponents 42-21.

But that had little affect as the Predators took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 3-1 victory before 17,220 at Bridgestone Arena.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) and Predators left wing Filip Forsberg
chase after a loose puck on Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena.

Game 4 is Tuesday night here at 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

"It's a hard-fought game," said Blues left wing Alexander Steen, who scored the Blues' lone goal. "I think they came out hard obviously. It's their home barn. They came out hard in the first. 

"It's small margins out there. They get the first one. It's two good teams. I think from there, they get a little bit of momentum and push a little bit. We got into some penalty trouble early in the second, but after that, I thought we played a lot better and got our fair share of chances."

For the third straight game, the Blues had a decent start but couldn't manage the first goal.

Then penalty issues began to creep in, just like Game 1 when the Blues lost 4-3. They rectified that issue in Game 2 and won 3-2, but fell back into some special teams' issues that disrupted their 5-on-5 play and fed Nashville's momentum.

The Blues, who only generated one power play in the game, started by having to kill Ryan Reaves' elbowing penalty (as a result of hitting P.K. Subban in the offensive zone after taking a number of cross-checks in the back) at 8 minutes, 31 seconds into the game.

The Blues had an 8-4 shots advantage at that point, but the bottom began to fall out.

The Blues didn't allow a power-play goal but fell behind for the third time in the series when Ryan Ellis scored on a shot from the high slot with traffic in front of Jake Allen three seconds after Reaves' penalty expired, at 10:34 of the first period.

From that moment on, the Predators had 21 of the next 23 shots on goal, and the Blues went without a shot attempt for 9:32. Nashville had the next 22 shot attempts, including a Cody McLeod goal that gave the Predators a 2-0 lead.

McLeod gave the Predators a 2-0 lead at 2:29 of the second after taking Sissons' saucer feed and stuffing a second-chance shot past Allen at the side of the net.

The Blues had little to nothing in the second but were somehow able to come away down only one after being outshot 18-4 in the second.

Before Alexander Steen scored for the Blues to cut the Predators' lead to 2-1, Nashville had 21 of the next 23 shots on goal.

The Blues had a Joel Edmundson shot on goal with 33 seconds remaining in the first period but then never even attempted a shot at Pekka Rinne for a 9:32 stretch, a stretch where Nashville out-attempted the Blues 22-0.

"That second period really got us there," Edmundson said. "They just kept firing it on net and just kept hemming us in our zone. I think that was their game plan and we've just got to find a way to get around that. 

"We've got to dictate the game. They were more physical than us tonight and I think that's what kind of backed us off. Next game we've just got to learn from that."

If not for Jake Allen, who made 31 saves, giving the Blues a chance, it may have been a steeper hole for St. Louis to climb out of. But at 2-1, the Blues felt good and had ample opportunities to get the tying goal. They couldn't and could point the finger directly at not reacting in a proper way, the way they did in Game 2 that resulted in a 3-2 victory.

"I don’t know if it was so much (the Reaves penalty) or if it was more of their push," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I think both teams came into the game ready to go. I think we had a decent start, like you said, but once they started to get to their game we didn’t seem to have an answer for them. They upped their game. They took their game to another level, and we didn’t match it.

"We obviously we put ourselves in trouble a couple times shorthanded. But that wasn’t really the story of the game. We scored one goal tonight. Fact of the matter is for a large part of the game, we weren’t even competitive. And so we obviously have to be way better. We have to make a couple changes, personnel-wise for the next game and look at the tape and see what we can do a little bit differently and a little bit better than tonight because it wasn’t good enough."

But the Blues somehow stuck with it, thanks to Allen, and were able to get on the board when Steen redirected Pietrangelo's shot from the right point to cut the deficit to one at 2-1 at 12:59 of the second, the Blues' first shot in 13:32 since Edmundson's shot with 33 seconds remaining in the first.

But from that moment through the remainder of the second and into a good portion of the third, the Blues had bite.

"Yeah, and throughout the third period too, other than the shift that they scored on, we had some good shifts," Pietrangelo said. "We strung together a lot of good opportunities in the offensive zone."

The best was Robert Bortuzzo's shot that hit the post 4:37 into the third that nearly tied the game.

"I think as the game progressed, we got to our game a little bit more," Steen said. "We had some good scoring chances and the game's at 2-1 and then get hemmed in a little bit and ends up costing us that third goal, which is tough."

Roman Josi's goal with 5:49 remaining put the final nail in the Blues' coffin.

It started with a crazy sequence of events:

The Blues made a wholesale change of players on the ice, including three forwards (Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko) came on the ice with 7:45 remaining and were on the ice for 1:56. Edmundson came on the ice with 7:42 remaining and was on the ice for 1:53. Partner Colton Parayko then came on with 7:35 left and was on for 1:46.

From the moment Edmundson iced the puck with 7:31 remaining, all five were on together for a total of 1:42, and then when Edmundson whiffed and failed to rim and clear puck around the boards, Viktor Arvidsson picked it off and Nashville had 1:21 of zone time where they cycled the puck, wore the Blues skaters down before Josi ripped a slap shot from the point to make it 3-1.

"I don't even know. We just got hemmed in and we stopped moving our feet," Edmundson said on what happened during that time. "I think they got a line change in there, so they had some fresh guys. They kept on cycling and they got it up top and got the one (timer). 

"I should have probably had the guy in front of the net boxed out so that Jake can see it. But overall, a tough shift for us."

"Most of the things that we’re seeing are very similar to what we saw in the last series," Yeo said. "The last series we saw a team that possessed the puck and cycled the puck, but we were much more aggressive than what we saw tonight. We’re at our best when we’re pressuring. Right now the way we played in our D zone matched the way that we executed matched the way we competed all over the ice. We were waiting to see what they were going to do. And we were reacting to that. We have to initiate much better."

Yeo switched up line combinations that seemed to work for some, including playing Steen with Vladimir Sobotka, who had a fantastic game, and Paul Stastny.

"Yeah, I switched the lines up," Yeo said. "Those guys went out and obviously had a great shift, got us the goal, started to see a little bit of a push, had a pretty decent push to start the third period too, but too little, too late."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (left) comes into celebrate with teammate
Alexander Steen after Steen scored in a 3-1 loss to Nashville on Sunday.

The Blues lost Stastny with 6:50 remaining in the first period with what appeared to be a hand/wrist injury after being checked from behind by Miikka Salomaki along the defensive zone boards. Stastny seemed to be favoring it as the shift progressed. He departed and did not return the rest of the period but came back for the second.

Allen gave the Blues a chance with his 31 saves, including 17 in the second period.

"He was great. He made some big saves, especially when the score was 2-1," Steen said. "He made some big saves and gave us a chance. 

"I thought we had some really good looks at 2-1 and had a good push and felt like we were going to tie her up."

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