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Predators use 'a lot of little plays' to win Game 4

Lessons learned in 2016 playoffs have them up 3-1 in series against Blues

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

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators are not haunted by Stanley Cup Playoffs of the past. Those painful experiences are empowering these Predators.

Nashville white-knuckled its way to a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the St. Louis Blues at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues vs. Predators series coverage | Ellis clutch again for Predators in Game 4]

 

The Predators can advance to a conference final for the first time with a win in Game 5 at St. Louis on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

It was their inability to win the ticket-punching game in the second round last season, a 5-0 Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks nearly a year ago, on May 12, 2016, that showed the Predators the way to victory Tuesday.

They made the small, seemingly insignificant plays they didn't make last year, they applied the mental toughness gained through a longer-than-desired offseason, and they outlasted another veteran, playoff-hardened team.

"Game 7, it was pretty heartbreaking the way we lost, but it has kind of taught us to stay even-keeled and to really never stop working and do the right things," said defenseman Ryan Ellis, who scored the first goal of the game at 5:09 of the third period and also saved a goal by clearing a Jaden Schwartz shot off the goal line late in the second.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Ellis cleans up rebound for PPG

So, what was learned from the 14-game run last spring that had the Predators on the cusp of the conference final?

"Little things like stick positioning, body positioning; it's amazing how one good read can lead to something, either a big save, a good shot block or a goal even," Ellis said. "There's a lot of guys making a lot of little plays that you may not see and they may not get, I guess, named for it, but there were a lot of great plays in here."

The Predators held their own for two periods when neither team could get the upper hand, never mind a goal.

Then Ellis, who has been Mr. Clutch for the Predators this postseason, pounced on a long rebound and scored his opportunistic goal to give Nashville the lead.

It took a lot of work to hold the hard-earned lead, but coach Peter Laviolette sensed his team was up to the task at hand, especially after forward James Neal made it 2-0 at 13:03.

"Our players have been in those types of battles before, and while I wouldn't say we are chiseled veterans, we've gained some valuable experience," Laviolette said. "That was a hard-checking, have-to-compete-for-every-inch-of-ice-out-there [game]. I thought our guys did a good job, but St. Louis played a good game as well, but I do think the experience has helped us."

The Blues pushed for the tying goal but were rebuffed by a determined, dedicated foe at every turn.

At 8:04 of the third, Nashville center Ryan Johansen took a hooking penalty. Viktor Arvidsson, a 31-goal scorer in the regular season, killed some valuable time by winning a race to a cleared puck and pinning it to the boards for several seconds.

The Bridgestone Arena crowd rose to its feet and chanted Arvidsson's name.

"I try to work my hardest to get the team to win," Arvidsson said. "We needed a kill at that time, and it was a big moment in the game, and I just tried to kill as much time as I could."

Video: Rinne's 32 saves backstop Preds to 2-1 win in Game 4

His teammates noticed and were inspired.

"How could you not notice?" forward Auston Watson said.

Said Ellis: "Coming in early in your career, you don't realize the little plays and how big of a difference they make. You start to see them the longer you have been around and the more experience you gain. The little things, the details, really wins hockey games."

Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson scored with 3:49 remaining to make it 2-1, and the knuckles got a little whiter as the Predators gripped their sticks a little tighter.

But they did what they learned from the series against the Sharks and paid attention to the details to reach the finish line.

"Any time you can learn and take experiences like that and put them in the back of your mind, it helps you," Watson said.

In that final desperate stretch, including a period of 2:32 when St. Louis goalie Jake Allen was pulled for an extra attacker, Nashville did the things that winning teams do.

"Really composed and really calm out there, even after their goal," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said.

Ellis blocked a shot almost immediately. Johnasen blocked a centering pass into the slot. Then Ellis blocked a prime chance, and Filip Forsberg blocked the follow-up from the always-dangerous Vladimir Tarasenko. Calle Jarnkrok won a race to a 50-50 puck in the St. Louis end and shoveled the puck to captain Mike Fisher, who killed valuable time to fizzle out the last-ditch push from the desperate Blues.

"Playoffs are about those big goals, but it is also about all those little things," said Watson, who had eight hits in the game. Every moment in the game counts."

Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Rinne, Ellis team up to keep puck out

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