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Miller wins third in row with Blues, tops Predators

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- In the three games Ryan Miller has been a member of the St. Louis Blues, coach Ken Hitchcock has noticed something about his new goalie.

"It's like everything sticks to him," Hitchcock said. "That's the part I like. … I don't know the technical part of playing goal, I just know everything sticks to him. That's good for us."

Miller has won all three of those games, the latest a 2-1 victory against the Nashville Predators on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.

Since joining the Blues in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres, Miller has stopped 57 of 62 shots for a .919 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average.

Miller, who spent his first 11 NHL seasons with Buffalo, said he is adjusting to the Western Conference. He also has to adjust to playing with the Blues, who allow the second-fewest shots in the NHL per game (26.4). The Sabres allow the second-most (34.5).

"It's still the NHL and there are going to be opportunities. No one wants to hear a goalie complain about few shots, so I'm happy to be a part of this club, and they play a good brand of hockey," Miller said. "It's my job to do a job. Stop the puck. Keep myself alert and keep myself energetic and engaged because there's going to be moments in the game when I'm going to have to play my game and it might not be after a couple shots of warm-ups."

The Blues (42-14-6) are 3-2-0 in their past five and have reached 90 points, moving within two of the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks. The Blues hold a game in hand.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks also won Thursday. Those two Central Division teams and the first-place Blues have three of the League's top five records. The Blackhawks trail the Blues by two points; the Avalanche are another point back.

Hitchcock was asked if it's important to avoid falling into second place so the Blues can avoid having to play one of those divisional teams in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Our goal is to win the Presidents' Cup, Trophy, whatever you want to call it," Hitchcock said. "Our goal is to do something with playing this well. We want to get a reward for it … our goal was to lead the division at the Olympic break and we did that, and now the goal is to try to win the Presidents' Trophy and, what the heck, that's important for us. It puts value in what's left of these 19 games now, and we want to take advantage of this. It's important for our guys."

St. Louis scored on its eighth shot to make it 2-1 at 8:18 of the second period, in part with help from a defensive mistake by usually dependable Nashville center Mike Fisher. Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi carried the puck down the right wing, and as Fisher gave chase, he attempted a stick check to the outside. That left an open route to the net, which Paajarvi took to beat goalie Pekka Rinne with a wrist shot.

"I kind of got surprised by myself there that I got past him," Paajarvi said, "and then all of a sudden I had a half breakaway."

St. Louis struck quickly off a faceoff for its first goal. Center Steve Ott, also part of the Miller trade, won the draw back to defenseman Ian Cole, who took a wrist shot from the left boards that eluded Rinne high to the glove side at 4:03 of the first period. The goal was Cole's third of the season.

Nashville answered at 10:28 of the first period with Nick Spaling's 11th goal of the season. Fisher dug a puck out of the corner and left it for Patric Hornqvist, who rifled a pass into the slot. Spaling, in his second game back after missing more than a month with a lower-body injury, redirected it high past Miller from close range.

Miller faulted himself for playing Hornqvist to shoot when he should have played him to pass.

"That first goal, I should probably know a little better," Miller said. "It was something the boys mentioned after, 'Oh, that play again where they throw it at the top of the paint.' There's little things like that I'm looking to learn and snuff those out."

In the second period, Rinne stopped a penalty shot by Alex Steen, who is tied for sixth in the NHL with 29 goals. Nashville defenseman Roman Josi hooked Steen from behind, leading to the call. Rinne came out aggressively, cut down Steen's angle and gloved a wrist shot with 4:33 left.

Rinne, playing his second game in a row since Oct. 22 after returning from a hip infection, made 20 saves.

The Predators (26-27-10), 1-4-2 in their past seven, have scored one goal in each of their past three games, all losses. Nashville is 0-for-14 on the power play in those games, including 0-for-4 on Thursday. With a win by the Dallas Stars on Thursday, Nashville fell eight points out of the final wild-card spot.

Predators coach Barry Trotz said the Blues are an extremely difficult team against which to mount a third-period comeback. He cited the Blues' record of 27-0-4 when leading at the second intermission. St. Louis allowed five shots in the third period, one through the first half of the period. Miller finished with 20 saves.

"They lock it down pretty good," Trotz said. "… They don't give you much. They got people back. You've got to get the puck deep and you've got to retrieve it. They lock you down and swarm on you and defend really well, and when you do make a good offensive play and make it out to the point, they're pretty committed to blocking shots and taking your lanes. It's hard to make plays out there. There's no space."

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