NASHVILLE – In a goaltending duel between two of the League's hottest goalies on two of its hottest teams, Nashville's Pekka Rinne prevailed on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena with 42 saves to earn his 11th straight win.
Mike Fisher, with his eighth goal in the last 10 games, earned the game-winner in a 3-1 victory over St. Louis and Jaroslav Halak, who made 34 saves.
Following a loss on Dec. 6, Rinne has won 20 and lost just twice. His 30 season victories are second overall to Detroit's Jimmy Howard.
"He was good – he was very good," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of Rinne. "They had a really good push at the start and Peks was really solid then. We stabilized. We came back at Halak pretty good, I thought.
"We could have ran away with that in the second period."
Said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock of Halak stopping all 17 shots he faced in the middle period, "It's two-nothing and our goalie's standing on his head in the second period."
With the win, Nashville (32-17-4) vaulted ahead of the Blues into second place in the Central Division with 68 points. The Predators have gone 9-2 in their last 11.
Rinne is now 4-0 against the Blues this season, with efforts of 31, 39, 35 saves along with Saturday's 42. The teams have two more meetings this season, in Nashville on Feb. 23 and at St. Louis on March 27.
"Obviously, Rinne played extremely well and made some big saves, but I think the thing we seemed to do in stretches was to get away from our game and try to find some cute way of passing it around him and that's exactly what they want," Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner said.
St. Louis (35-16-1) was playing its second game in two nights, with Halak shutting out the Kings, 1-0, on Friday. He has stopped 54 of the last 56 shots he has faced and has four shutouts in his last eight starts.
The Blues suffered only their second regulation defeat in the last 11 games (7-2-2). Despite that record, the Blues have struggled to score of late. Only eight teams have fewer goals scored this season, and St. Louis has been limited to two goals in the last 120:00 of play.
Rinne held off both an early and then a late charge, making many trademark glove saves. Rinne, who is tied for the League lead in appearances with 47, not only benefitted from the All-Star break but also got a rare night off in a non-back-to-back situation on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Two of Rinne's best saves came with under nine minutes left in regulation and the Blues pressuring. The 6-foot-5 goalie stacked his pads to stop defenseman Kris Russell, who skated in alone from the left point, lifting his right leg to deflect the puck. Then he pushed across the crease to stop another try from Russell on the opposite side.
Rinne said the play was a reaction born out of desperation.
"It was nice to get that, obviously," Rinne said. "It was a big save at the time. It was one of those saves that denies a sure goal, I guess. … That's the best feeling when you don't need to think. You just react and that was just one of those things."
Trotz said the save was not only a product of how "incredibly athletic" Rinne is, but also how he wills himself to stop pucks.
"He's so competitive," Trotz said. "… He never quits on a play, quits on a puck. He can contort with his athletic ability to do some incredible things. The Blues, based on what they did, they should have a point tonight."
Early on, the Blues outshot Nashville 11-3. The Preds stole the momentum when St. Louis' David Perron went to the penalty box at 6:28 of the first for hooking Ryan Ellis. Nashville, which owns the League's second-ranked power play, took advantage. Martin Erat's slapshot from the high in the zone beat Halak cleanly over catching glove, seemingly handcuffing the goalie as it sailed over his wrist. The goal was Erat's 12th.
The three players who scored for Nashville have 40 goals combined – a commentary about their balanced scoring.
"That's how we're sort of wired and lined up," Trotz said. "Tonight some of the best chances were the (Nick) Spaling-(Jordin) Tootoo-(Brandon) Yip line, but they didn't score and the other lines (did). In (Tuesday's 5-4 win in) Minnesota, it was more of the (Craig) Smith line getting us back in the game."
A puck battle among No. 74s led to Nashville's second goal. Sergei Kostitsyn came out ahead against St. Louis' T.J. Oshie, winning the puck near the Blues' net. He made a diving stab at the puck, backhanding it into the slot where Fisher wristed it past Halak for his 15th at 12:30.
Chris Porter, pressuring Nashville rookie defenseman Roman Josi, stole the puck away from Josi and quickly potted a wrist shot at 4:01 of the third period, but the Blues could not get the equalizer past Rinne.
Sergei Kostitsyn scored an empty-net goal with 22.1 seconds left in regulation.
"We have to play 60 minutes on the road and, for whatever reason, we haven't been doing that," said Langenbrunner.
St. Louis is unbeaten in its last 10 at home (8-0-2) and 22-3-4 at home on the season, but fell to 8-11-3 on the road. Hitchcock said the Blues had too many passengers and were inconsistent in their effort throughout.