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Round 2

Blues vs. Predators playoff preview

Jake Allen-Pekka Rinne goalie matchup highlights second-round series

by Shawn P. Roarke @SRoarke_NHL / NHL.com Director of Editorial

St. Louis Blues (C3) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)

Season series: Nashville 3-2-0

Last playoff meeting: Never

 

How they got here

The St. Louis Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round in five games. St. Louis advanced with outstanding goaltending from Jake Allen and timely scoring. No game in the series was decided by more than two goals, and three of the five were one-goal games.

The Predators, meanwhile, pulled off the biggest upset in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, eliminating the Central Division champion Chicago Blackhawks in four games. They are the third team in NHL history to sweep a first-round series against the team that had the best record in their conference during the regular season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1981 Edmonton Oilers, against the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-5 preliminary round, and the 1993 Blues, against the Blackhawks in the Norris Division Semifinals, are the others.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne allowed three goals on 126 shots, and the top line of center Ryan Johansen, left wing Filip Forsberg and right wing Viktor Arvidsson combined for 15 points (five goals, 10 assists).

The best-of-7 second-round series begins at Scottrade Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: Hradek previews Blues vs. Preds second round series

 

5 storylines

Which goalie will blink first?: Rinne and Allen each is off to a fantastic start to the postseason. Rinne's .976 save percentage is sensational, but it becomes even more impressive considering two of the three goals he allowed were with the Blackhawks on the power play. Not only did he make huge saves, but his ability to play the puck wreaked havoc on Chicago's zone-entry strategies. Allen looked nothing like the goalie who was given a mental break during the regular season. He stopped 174 of 182 shots (.956 save percentage).

Neutral parties: It may not have been pretty or lauded, but Nashville's ability to slow down Chicago coming through the neutral zone may well have been the deciding factor of the series. Predators coach Peter Laviolette puts a huge emphasis on discipline in that area of the ice, and their proclivity to force turnovers frustrated the Blackhawks in each game. According to Chicago forward Patrick Kane, the strategy was referred to as the "Red Rover" defense, referencing the childrens' game that features a picket line of players that must be breached. Will the Blues have the patience to navigate the clogged middle of the ice?

Lead time: The Blues and Predators spent the majority of the first round either tied or with the lead. Nashville, which had a shutout in each of the first two games, did not trail until 141:05 elapsed in its series. The Blackhawks led for 22:53 in Game 3, their only lead in the series, before the Predators scored two third-period goals and Kevin Fiala scored in overtime.

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm3: Fiala beats Crawford for OT winner

The Blues led for 133:42 in their series, which was 327:30 in length. The Wild led for 43:10. The Predators or Blues are going to have to play from behind more than they've been accustomed so far in the playoffs.

Blues must find offensive balance: The Blues did not need much offense in the first round because of the brilliance of Allen. They scored 11 goals in the five-game series, but three were by defensemen, and one of the eight goals from the forwards was into an empty net. Six of the Blues' 14 forwards have scored so far this postseason. By comparison, the Predators had six forwards score 10 of their 13 goals in four games.

Special occasions: The Predators allowed two goals in nine times shorthanded against the Blackhawks, and neither was scored at United Center. The Blues scored once in 15 opportunities on the power play in the first round. In the regular-season series between these teams, the Blues were 1-for-14 with the man-advantage.

Video: Blues top Wild in Game 5 to advance to Second Round

 

By the numbers

60.2: The percentage of faceoffs won by Ryan Johansen in the first-round series, the best of any center in the series who took at least 30 faceoffs. Johansen's prowess in the circle fueled Nashville's possession game against Chicago.

29:51: The average time on ice per game for Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Only Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson averaged more in the first round (30:30).

.942: Allen's save percentage in 30 regular-season and playoff games since Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock as Blues coach on Feb. 1. His save percentage from the start of the season through Jan. 31 was .895.

 

In the spotlight

Blues: Paul Stastny, forward -- Stastny did not play his first game in the series against the Wild until Game 5 on Saturday because of a foot injury sustained March 21 against the Colorado Avalanche. He played 22:42 and scored a goal in his 2017 postseason debut.

Predators: Mattias Ekholm, defenseman -- Ekholm doesn't get many headlines, but he was solid in the first round, when he had an assist and a plus-4 rating. He has been playing big minutes against top lines while paired with P.K. Subban. He got plenty of time against Chicago's best offensive players, including Jonathan Toews and Kane, who each was limited to one goal in the series.

 

Keys to victory

Blues: Patience. Entry into the Nashville zone will require planning and precision. St. Louis will have to take what is there. If it calls for a chip-and-chase game plan, the Blues must have the patience and discipline to do just that. Over-aggressiveness against the Predators' 1-3-1 scheme can lead to transition going the other way.

Predators: Depth. Laviolette loves to roll four lines and has faith in each of them. That ability makes Nashville a tough team to try to match lines against. The top line sees more minutes than any of the other three, but those lines each average 14-17 minutes in most games.

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