NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Nashville Predators stayed unbeaten in regulation through eight games largely because of the play of their goaltenders.
On Thursday the Predators ran into a superior goaltender, as the St. Louis Blues' Jaroslav Halak posted his second straight shutout with a 24-save effort, 3-0, before 15,506 at Bridgestone Arena in a meeting of Central Division rivals off to hot starts.
Halak is 3-0-1 in his last four games and flashing the form that helped his Montreal Canadiens upset Washington and Pittsburgh in the playoff last spring. He has not given up a goal since Chicago's Brent Seabrook scored on him at 9:35 of the second period in the Blues' 4-2 win over the Blackhawks on Oct. 22 -- a span of 151 minutes 10 seconds. He has stopped 78 of his last 80 shots in the Blues' last three games, a .975 save percentage.
"It feels great, but I wasn't going into the game thinking about the last shutout I had," Halak said. "I was just thinking about trying to help the guys win the game. It's even more special when I have a shutout."
Halak, named the League's Second Star of the Week for posting a .944 save percentage in three games, stoned the Predators on numerous quality scoring chances created by St. Louis turnovers. In the first period, he stopped a breakaway by Patric Hornqvist and a point-blank shot from an undefended J-P
Dumont who had taken a feed from Colin Wilson high in the zone.
"I think after the few chances we, especially in the first period, we picked it up and were shooting more on the net and were trying to create some rebounds," Halak said. "I think we played a really good first period, even though we gave them two chances, but that's what I'm there for."
Halak, who, before speaking to the media, did push-ups while playing a card game -- a routine he said he does win or lose -- also credited the Blues for playing a relatively penalty-free game and limiting Nashville's power play opportunities.
The Predators had only 4:24 with the man advantage in three power plays and the Blues scored the game-winning goal on Alex Steen's shorthanded goal with 7:04 left in the second period. Steen kept the puck behind the net during a 4-on-4 situation and played give-and-go with David Perron. Steen took Perron's quick feed in front of the net and beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne from close range four seconds after Nashville's penalty to Alexander Sulzer expired.
"He earned that game for us certainly in that second period," Blues coach Davis Payne said of an 11-shot period for the Predators in which they had two of their power plays.
The win for St. Louis continued a strong start and created something of a logjam near the top of the Central Division. The Blues (5-1-2), who got revenge against the only team to defeat them in regulation this season, moved within a point of Nashville and defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, who have 13
points apiece and sit atop the division.
The Blues got off to poor starts in each of the last two seasons. Halak is making sure that doesn't happen again.
"He's such a fun goalie to watch because he looks like he's not even trying," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "He's so effortless in his motions, and there's no wasted energy with him. We feel so confident with him and he's so cool, calm and collected; we know that we can go in the offensive zone and attack there if we have any hiccups, so he's been a great, great asset for us."
The Blues led only 1-0 until deep into the third period. Patrik Berglund scored with 7:12 left in regulation and then Matt D'Agostini scored during a five-minute power play at 15:15.
About the only thing that might have put a damper on the win for St. Louis was a play that came with 6:49 left in the third. Nashville's Jordin Tootoo received the major penalty and a game misconduct as he appeared to leave his skates and made contact with his shoulder to the head of St. Louis' Carlo Colaiacovo.
The Blues' defenseman lay on the ice for a several minutes and required medical attention before leaving.
Payne said after the game that Colaiacovo was "banged up" and would need to be evaluated.
"We'll take a look at the hit and exactly what the hit looked like, but, again, Carlo will bounce back and we got our win, so, in the end, I don't know if we just don't show up tomorrow and get back to work," Payne said.
Payne refused to comment on whether he thought Tootoo merited a suspension. Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he didn't think Tootoo left his feet and believed it was a shoulder-to-shoulder check and that, to him, it was "a fairly clean hit."
Said Tootoo of the play behind the Blues' net: "My understanding is that it was a blow to the head, but if you look at the replay it looks like shoulder-on-shoulder. It's a tough league we play in. You've got to keep your head up out there and I think the bottom line is that when you hit someone hard, obviously, the refs are going to take a second look at it."
Nashville, which had won five in a row against the Blues, heads out on a five-game road trip.
"We've just got to pull our game together in a bit of areas," Trotz said. "We have to be detailed. Our goaltenders have won us some games… We have to do our share."