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Blues return home to face surging Predators

by John Kreiser
PREDATORS (41-26-5) at BLUES (34-28-9)

Last 10 –
Nashville 7-3-0; St. Louis 7-3-0

Season serie
s – It’s the fourth meeting of six between the Central Division rivals, but the first in calendar year 2010. The road team has won the first three, with Nashville taking the last one by winning 4-3 on Dec. 29.

Big story
– Two of the NHL’s hottest teams meet at Scottrade Center, though the Blues might prefer to play the game in Nashville. St. Louis has gotten back into the playoff race by going 6-3-0 this month despite playing eight of its nine games on the road (and losing the only home game). The Predators are in better shape – they’re sixth with 87 points and have won five in a row, enough to leave them six points clear of ninth-place Calgary with 10 games left.

Team Scope:

-- The biggest reason for Nashville’s surge has been the play of Pekka Rinne, who’s been in goal for all five games and has shutouts in three of them, including Saturday’s 1-0 overtime win over Columbus. Cody Franson’s goal 1:54 into overtime was the only one of the game.

"He's been really sharp," coach Barry Trotz said of Rinne. "He's doing a good job. He's moving, his hands have been good, he's been seeing the puck, and obviously playing very well for us."

Blues -- The Blues have gotten a boost from the play of backup goaltending Ty Conklin, who beat the Rangers 4-3 in New York on Thursday and outplayed Martin Brodeur in a 1-0 win at New Jersey on Saturday night.

"It's amazing what he's able to do," coach Davis Payne said of his backup goaltender. "He'd been on the bench for a while and all of a sudden, he was thrown into the fire. To perform like that takes a guy with great focus and a great amount of intensity."

Who’s hot -- Rinne is coming off back-to-back shutouts and has not allowed a goal in his last 132:36. Rookie Colin Wilson had an assist on Franson’s winning goal, giving him three points in two games. … Conklin’s shutout in New Jersey was his fourth of the season and 10th win in 23 games. Alex Steen, who had the lone goal against the Devils, has 21 for the season, a career high. He has 10 goals and 18 points in his last 18 games.

Injury report
-- Nashville is still missing defenseman Denis Grebeshkov (lower body). The Blues are as healthy as an NHL team can be at this stage of the season.

Stat pack -- Rinne might be due for a rest, but Trotz will be tempted to use him because of his success against the Blues -- he's 4-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average in seven games against St. Louis. … Blues goaltender Chris Mason could be back in the net after a two-game break -- he's 3-2-2 with a 1.66 GAA in seven starts against the Predators.

Puck drop
-- While the Predators are close enough to think about printing playoff tickets, time is running out on the Blues. St. Louis, which has won nine of 12, is still six points behind Detroit with 11 games remaining.

"We know where we're at," Conklin said. "We have to win the majority of our games."
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