Blues complete season series with rival Predators
Monday, 03.26.2012 / 5:58 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff WriterPREDATORS (44-24-8) at BLUES (47-20-9)
TV: FS-TN (HD), FS-MW (HD)
Nashville 6-3-1; St. Louis 6-2-2
For much of this season St. Louis has dominated the entire League, but one team that seems to have the Blues' number is Nashville, which has won four of five meetings this season against its division rival. The Predators only loss to the Blues came in a shootout in their last meeting on Feb. 23 at Bridgestone Arena.
Few teams know St. Louis quite as well as its division rival to the east. The Predators have played the Blues five times this season and played them well, and with both teams' positions in the postseason essentially assured, Tuesday's season series finale could be a preview of two talented teams that may very well meet again in the postseason. Nashville can also cement their place in the playoffs Tuesday, clinching a berth with one point in the game.
Two weeks ago, things were starting to look uncomfortable for the Predators, who were not playing their best hockey with the playoffs on the horizon. Nashville won just one of five games before taking the ice against Winnipeg on Saturday night, but a solid weekend will cure any concerns -- and it did just that for the Preds. Nashville knocked off the Jets and then headed right to Chicago where it put on a display with a dominating 6-1 victory over one of the hottest teams in the League.
It's possible the return of Alexander Radulov
from the KHL spurred the team on, as he has a point in all three games he's played since hopping back across the pond. But the most important thing for the Preds is simply to start playing well as the season ends. After all, with St. Louis holding a seven-point lead on Nashville with six games to play, the Preds are likely consigned to the fourth or fifth seed where it will in all probability face either Detroit or Chicago. Getting home ice in that first-round matchup could prove pivotal, however, and it certainly gives the Predators something to play for as the season winds down.
For the Blues there appears to be just one goal left to achieve in what has been a remarkable turnaround season. St. Louis currently has the best record in the NHL and with Vancouver right on the Blues' collective heels, the battle for the top seed in the West is still a valuable spoil that has yet to be claimed. The Presidents' Trophy, too, is a possibility, as St. Louis has a two-point edge on the New York Rangers, but the Blueshirts also have a game in hand.
The Blues have not done themselves very many favors lately, however, winning just three games on a recently completed seven-game road trip. It is worth noting, however, that two of those losses came in a shootout, meaning that when the League's top team returns home Tuesday night, they may not be feeling as wounded as the road trip's record might indicate, particularly considering the Blues' 4-0 win against the Coyotes in Phoenix Sunday. A solid performance like that should be a boon to the Blues as they wrap up their season and what should be their first division crown in 12 years.
Who's Hot: Alex Pietrangelo
has turned it on from the St. Louis blue line lately, tallying 5 points in his last four games. … Patric Hornqvist
has 6 points in his last five games for Nashville.
Injury Report: Jordin Tootoo
(upper body), Colin Wilson
(groin) and Roman Josi
(upper body) are all considered questionable for the Predators. … The Blues activated Alex Steen
from injured reserve Sunday. He has missed the last 39 games with a concussion. Roman Polak
(bruised knee) is questionable, while Andy McDonald
(bruised shoulder) has been out since March 16.
The Blues have had one of the best goalie tandems in the League all season, but with the team's recent stumble one might think the goaltending is taking a hit. Indeed, Brian Elliott
has won just two of his last seven starts, but in those seven games he has also given up a grand total of just 10 goals, making it seem as though the losses are due simply to bad luck rather than poor play.
As these two teams face off for the last time in the regular season, it is very unlikely they will wind up pitted against one another when the playoffs begin. However, a second-round matchup is far from out of the question, and if that's the case, Tuesday's game could prove pivotal for psychological reasons. If the Blues cannot come out with the two points, five wins in six games would give the Predators a significant mental edge going into a postseason meeting.