In a best-of-seven series, every road team talks about the need to earn a split in the first two games in order to steal home-ice advantage.
The Nashville Predators did just that in their Western Conference semifinal series with the St. Louis Blues, but they had reason to feel a little empty as they left Scottrade Center on Friday night. Leading 2-1 after Ryan Ellis’ early third-period marker, Nashville couldn’t hold back St. Louis’ late push and allowed pair of goals to drop a 3-2 decision.
It was the first loss in six playoff games for the Predators, who try to regain the lead in the series on Sunday in Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
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“You play some of the best teams in the league and it’s tough to win every night,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We battled back like we’ve done so many times and showed a lot of character, but it’s a disappointing feeling when they score two goals in the third.”
Vladimir Tarasenko spearheaded the Blues’ attack in Game 2, scoring their first goal during a five-minute power play late in the first period and then wiring a wrister past Rinne at 16:09 of the third to snap a 2-2 deadlock.
It was a nice comeback for Tarasenko, who didn’t make the scoresheet in Game 1 on Wednesday night when Nashville won 4-3. Considering he has accounted for 22 goals in 40 postseason matches, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
“He’s really got his stick going now,” St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said of Tarasenko. “I think he was a little frustrated with himself in the first series. He’s a premier goal scorer and to not be able to score in the first few games was tough on him and I think he took it to heart.”
Tarasenko managed just a goal and two assists in the Blues’ 4-1 first-round elimination of Minnesota, although his performance in that series looked better than the statistics suggest. He set up Joel Edmundson’s overtime goal in Game 1 and got the first tally of Game 5.
Rinne and the Predators weren’t fooled by Tarasenko’s low numbers from the Minnesota series.
“He has a great shot for a reason,” Rinne said. “He scores a lot of goals. I’ve got to be aware of when he’s on the ice.”
Despite its first taste of postseason defeat, Nashville has reason to feel it still has its best hockey ahead. Although they played the majority of each game in St. Louis with just 11 forwards after Kevin Fiala fractured his femur in Game 1 and Vernon Fiddler was ejected in Game 2, the Predators outshot the Blues in both contests and have outhit them as well.
With the next two games at home, Nashville figures to come out of the gate flying, much like St. Louis did in the first two contests. However, the Blues have been a better road team in the last two postseasons, going 6-4 last spring and 3-0 this year.
“We knew it was going to be a long series,” Allen said. “I don’t think either team thought it would be a sweep for one side or the other. That’s going to be rare in these ages.”