Close games are the norm whenever the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues face off.
The outcome of Thursday night’s game between the Central Division rivals was typical, with the Blues winning 3-2 in a shootout. T.J. Oshie scoring the deciding goal against goalie Pekka Rinne.
The Predators picked up a point, but missed a chance to close the gap against the Blues, who are fourth in the Western Conference with 81 points. The Predators are fifth with 77.
”Rinne is one of the hardest-working goalies in the league,” Oshie said. ”I had watched some video of him. You have to stay with him. It took us all the way to a shootout to beat him. They are a tough team and we’ve had a tough time in this building.”
Rinne stopped 22 shots as the Predators ended a modest two-game winning string.
Oshie scored on the first try in the shootout. The Predators failed on two attempts, by Colin Wilson and Martin Erat, and Andy McDonald also scored for the Blues.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak stopped both attempts by the Predators in the shootout and turned back 25 shots in the game. It was his first appearance in net after a four-game absence. It was also his 100th career NHL victory.
”I felt good,” Halak said. ”There weren’t that many shots in the first period, so that helped me to stay fresh.
”Every time we play them it is a shootout or a one-goal game. I’m just glad we beat them. We wanted to start this road trip with a win.”
The Blues were coming off a 4-2 loss to Boston on Wednesday night. Coach Ken Hitchcock thought the match was actually two different games.
”I thought we were better than them in the first period, the overtime and the second half of the third period,” Hitchcock said. ”They were better than us in the second period and the first half of the third.”
Chris Stewart opened the scoring 4:13 into the game. A short-range shot by Jason Arnott bounced off the left goal post. Stewart skated into the slot from the right and put the puck in from just above the crease when he caught Rinne out of position.
Roman Josi skated in from low in the slot and fired a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Halak to tie the game early in the second period.
Wilson gave the Predators a 2-1 lead at 12:52 of the second by beating Halak to his stick side with a backhander from in front of the net.
”It has been a weird year for me,” Wilson said. ”When I’m playing my best, pucks don’t go in. And when I have an average game, like tonight, they go in. It is just the bounces of the game.”
The lead was short-lived. The Blues responded 34 seconds later when Vladimir Sobotka emerged from a crowd in front of the net and shot a backhander high over Rinne.
”There was a lot of traffic,” Sobotka said. ”The puck was bouncing. I just tried to hit it.”
The Blues and Predators could face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Hitchcock doesn’t think either team wants that matchup.
”If we got in a series I’m not sure there would be many players left to play in the next one,” Hitchcock said. ”It’s great that we are in the 80s in points. We will just see where this goes.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz compared the game to a prize fight and was frustrated his team did not put the Blues on the ropes early because they had played the night before.
”When we go at it with St. Louis it is always going to be each team taking some blows and giving some blows,.” Trotz said. ”We feel we could have been better a little bit, especially in the first period.
”It is like two heavyweights going at it toe to toe. In the end, it’s decided by the judges. It’s a draw. You go to the scorecards.”
NOTES: The Predators have not allowed a power-play goal for five straight games. …The Blues have stopped 17 of 20 power-play attempts by the Predators in the last 10 games in the series. …Wilson is four points away from tying his career high of 35 points. … St. Louis has points in eight of the last 10 games with the Predators.