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Blues, Predators competing for underdog role

St. Louis, Nashville after edge that allowed them to advance to Western Conference Second Round as lower seeds

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a time for coaches to find any means possible to motivate their team, and an external negative perception can go a long way in accomplishing that.

But what happens when you use that perception to great success to get through the first round and come up against a team that did the exact same thing?

You have a fight for underdog status, that's what.

The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators play Game 1 of their Western Conference Second Round series at Scottrade Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), and from the sounds of it, Blues coach Mike Yeo and Predators coach Peter Laviolette were seeking that edge that allowed each of them to eliminate a formidable opponent in the first round.

The Predators swept the Chicago Blackhawks, the top seed in the Western Conference with 109 points, in four games. The Blues defeated the higher-seeded Minnesota Wild, who had the second-most points in the conference (106), in five games in their best-of-7 series.

It's a bit of an easier task for Yeo, seeing as the large majority of so-called expert predictions have the Predators defeating the Blues and moving on the Western Conference Final. Of the 21 NHL Network and NHL.com experts predicting the second round, two took the Blues to win.

Video: NHL Tonight previews the STL-NSH series

Yeo appeared to be embracing that Wednesday.

"It's hard to ignore it," he said. "We all read the opinions and the predictions, so we're well-aware that not a lot of people are picking us to move on past this round. I can't say that I blame them as far as looking at what Nashville did in the first round. Obviously the way that they eliminated Chicago, not only did they eliminate Chicago they beat up on them pretty handily.

"That doesn't affect our belief in our locker room. We know that we have a real good test. We know we're up against a good opponent. It's the same we faced last series too."

Yeo was asked if he used the underdog role as motivation, and was asked if his answer meant that he does or he doesn't.

"I don't know," Yeo said. "It's a little bit of both I guess. We pay attention to it, but it doesn't affect us."

Laviolette, however, did not appear to be aware that his Predators have been tabbed as favorites in the series, even if they are starting on the road. But he did suggest that having an us-against-the-world mentality in the playoffs can be beneficial.

"It was pretty clear last round we were on our own island," he said. "And the guys knew that."

And in perhaps a veiled effort to maintain that underdog status, Laviolette went to the trouble of pointing out how well the Blues have played since Yeo took over from Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1. Including the first round of the playoffs, the Blues are 26-9-2 since then.

Video: Andy Strickland on Blues' matchup against the Preds

"From that time on Feb. 1, they're the No. 1 team in the League and should be respected for that," Laviolette said. "They've done a good job of winning hockey games, competing in hockey games, playing good defense and they're going to be a tough opponent."

There's a method to all of this because there is a benefit to it, at least as far as Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is concerned.

He believes that it's easier to enter a playoff series when no one else expects your team to win.

"I think the outside pressure, it's way smaller," he said. "But since the beginning of the series against Chicago we knew we could play with those guys and we could beat them and we did that. … But obviously this is a new series."

It is a new series, but each team might have been trying to grasp at a little bit of the magic that allowed them to get through the last one while they still could.

After Game 1, the underdog and favorite roles should be defined more clearly.

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