NASHVILLE – Entering Thursday's game at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne had stymied the St. Louis Blues in all four previous season meetings. It was starting to get to the point where Rinne was getting in the heads of some of the Blues' top scorers.
The Blues finally beat Rinne, although it took a shootout to do it, as T.J. Oshie earned the game-winner in a 3-2 Blues victory.
"Last time in here it maybe got to me and I think I had maybe a little bit more shots and he's a great goaltender and he can frustrate scorers," Oshie said of Rinne, who had 42 saves in a 3-1 win in the teams' most recent meeting on Feb. 4. "He can frustrate the other team. You just have to stick with it and that's what we did tonight and it took us all the way to the shootout to finally beat him."
Oshie opened the shootout by deking Rinne (22 saves) before beating him with a backhander high to the blocker side, imitating a move Boston's Tyler Seguin used with success in Boston's 4-3 shootout win on Feb. 11. Andy McDonald then slid a backhander past Rinne in the second round.
Jaroslav Halak improved to 2-5 in shootouts this season by stopping Colin Wilson and Martin Erat.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for St. Louis. Nashville has lost only twice in regulation in its last nine games (4-2-3).
With the victory, St. Louis, fourth in the Western Conference and second in the Central Division with 80 points, now leads Nashville by four points in both the conference and divisional races. If the season ended right now, these rivals would meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, with St. Louis owning the home-ice edge.
"I don't think neither one of us wants to play each other, to be honest with you," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who called the win "gutsy" and "not pretty" after losing at home to Boston, 4-2, the night before. "I'm not sure if we got in a series there'd be many players left to play the next one, so we'll see. We'll see where it goes, but right now we're just grateful that we got a road win and keep going."
Nashville has now earned nine points out of a possible 10 against the Blues, but Predators coach Barry Trotz was unhappy to yield that one point on Thursday. Trotz also somewhat foretold what a potential playoff meeting could look like.
"Obviously, we're still trying to catch them," Trotz said. "And by giving up a point, that's the disappointing thing. We feel like we could've been better a little, especially the first period, and that's a good thing in terms of where we need to go.
"St. Louis is a solid team. They're well-coached and there's two heavyweights going at it toe-to-toe. In the end, it's done by the judges almost. It's draw. And then you go to the scorecards."
Despite having the fourth-most points in the League, the Blues ranked among the bottom seven in the NHL in road points. They improved to 11-13-3 in the first of a six-game road trip, a huge test at a critical time in the season.
St. Louis answered quickly after Nashville took its first lead, and the game entered second intermission tied at 2-2. The Blues stopped a clearing try deep in Nashville's end along the wall and Vladimir Sobotka backhanded a loose puck high past Rinne's short side at 13:26.
"I saw they turned it over and I just saw the puck there and I hit it and it ended up in the net," Sobotka said.
Less than a minute earlier, Wilson scored his second goal in three games as the Preds did a little bit of line shuffling. Jordin Tootoo and Nick Spaling outworked the Blues behind the net to win the puck and Tootoo sent it in front of the net where Wilson beat defenseman Roman Polak to it and backhanded it in along the ice at 12:52. The goal was Wilson's 13th on the season.
The Blues opened the scoring 4:13 into the game, less than a minute after killing a penalty. Former Nashville captain Jason Arnott fed a backhand pass through the goalmouth that deflected off teammate Chris Stewart and into the net. After a brief review, Stewart had his 13th goal.
Roman Josi showed fantastic speed to even the score early in the second period. On a delayed penalty against St. Louis, Preds forward Brandon Yip started the rush down the right wing for Nashville, stopped along the boards and found the rookie defenseman blazing up the middle as the trailer. Josi took the pass and had plenty of time to beat Halak high to the blocker side at 3:35.
Halak (25 saves) held the Blues in the game in the third period, stopping all 10 Nashville shots, while his team mustered only three in the period.
"We put so much into the (darn) game and got no reward for it," Hitchcock said of Wednesday's loss. "It was a (heck) of a hockey game. It was really physical, very demanding and then to come and have to play in this building off a back-to-back is not easy. I'm really proud of the team."