St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo isn’t putting much stock in his team’s last meeting with the Nashville Predators, a 4-1 home victory back on April 2, and he’s not focusing on the season series against the Preds either.
“Obviously the score was good and I think we played well in the game,” Yeo said. “I know for a fact they were coming off a pretty grueling schedule at that time. As we’re not putting a lot of stock into the fact we lost some games as well. What we do right now is we learn what went well, what didn’t go well for us when we played them.”
The Blues lost three of their five meetings against the Predators during the regular season, but the teams that will match up in the Western Conference second-round series beginning Wednesday night in St. Louis are two of the hottest in the NHL — and bear little resemblance to the squads that finished third and fourth in the Central Division during the regular season.
The Blues, who are attempting to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, knocked out the Minnesota Wild in five games. The Predators, who have never advanced past the second round, swept the Chicago Blackhawks, the Central champs and top seed in the West.
“It was a battle,” Blues goalie Jake Allen said after Saturday’s win in Minnesota. “It’s just physical and had everything. There was offense, there was a lot of good defense on both sides, it was physical, it was tough and every game was close. There wasn’t a blowout game. Every game was basically one goal besides the 3-1 empty-netter, so it’s going to be an even tougher series the next one. You saw what they did to Chicago, obviously they’re playing their best games of the year and they’ll be ready.”
Allen and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne were, statistically, the top two netminders in the first round.
While Allen posted a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage against the Wild, Rinne was even better against the Blackhawks. He registered a 0.70 GAA and .976 save percentage with two shutouts in the four-game sweep.
“We know what Jake’s capable of,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We saw it in the first series. You need a good goalie at this time of year. That’s the reality of it. Jake’s been nothing but spectacular. Rinne had a good series as well. It’s our job to try and exploit some things, and they’re going to do the same thing about Jake so both teams are going to have to find ways to score goals.”
HOT NASHVILLE LINE
While goals were hard to come by for the Blues against the Wild, the Predators’ top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg made a difference in their sweep of the Blackhawks.
Johansen (one goal, five assists) had six points in the series, while Forsberg (two goals, three assists) had five and Arvidsson (two goals, two assists) added four. So that’s 15 points in just four games from the top unit.
“They are a handful,” Yeo said. “Very, very skilled group. A lot of speed. A lot of skill. Playing the game very well right now with a lot of confidence. But certainly there’s a lot more to them as well. It’s a group that has a ton of confidence. They are very motivated right now and you can see it in their game, that every guy is going out there and playing his role well.”
The Blues got a boost with the return of center Paul Stastny for Game 5 of the Wild series and he contributed immediately with a goal and a team-high 13 faceoff wins.
In addition to Stastny’s prowess on the faceoff dot, his return to the top line — in place of rookie Ivan Barbashev, who filled in admirably — should help linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz get going more offensively in this series. It also helps strengthen the rest of the lineup, Yeo said.
“You get stronger through the rest of your lineup,” the coach said. “When you see a game winner like we saw last game with a guy like Maggy (Magnus Paajarvi) and Sobi (Vladimir Sobotka) and Lehts (Jori Lehtera) going out there and making that happen, because you have the strength up higher in your lineup those guys have a chance to do that.”