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Round 2

Austin Watson helping Predators with physical play against Blues

Forward has 26 hits, big reason Nashville has 3-1 series lead

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators knew their Western Conference Second Round series against the St. Louis Blues would be physical, and it has lived up to the billing.

Forward Austin Watson has done his part to make sure the Predators match up well with a Nashville-high 26 hits in four games.

Nashville leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Predators would reach a conference final for the first time with a win.

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues-Predators series coverage]

 

Watson had a game-high eight hits in a 2-1 win in Game 4 on Tuesday. He has helped Nashville match the intensity of St. Louis so far in the series.

"I think we've responded well, everybody in their own way," he said. "You've got guys that are obviously a little bigger than others, but guys are doing a good job. We're just playing hard, getting in the battle, engaging in the battles and we're doing a good job of playing the body when possible but doing it clean."

Watson was recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Oct. 22 and made an immediate impact with his physical style of play. He had 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 77 games.

"I think he's been great all year," Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. "He's such a hard worker. He plays physical. He's really hard to play against for the opposing team, and especially as a defensemen, if you go back for pucks and you see him coming, it's always pretty tough. We can't appreciate him enough. He's blocking shots, he's hitting people, but he's making plays too. I think he's been unbelievable the whole year and especially in the playoffs."

The Predators have needed Watson (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) to set the tone against the Blues. He has led or been tied for the Nashville lead in hits in three of the four games in the series.

"I think [Game 4] was a good example of him laying his body out there," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "Just big hits, big blocks. That whole fourth line, they have a big matchup out there. They play against their fourth line and no matter what the situation, their coach throws them out there and our guys have responded really well."

Watson got the primary assist on Vernon Fiddler's winning goal in Game 1 against the Blues. He has two assists in eight playoff games.

"He's been a real warrior," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of Watson. "It's true, you probably mark a big save more or a big goal more than you would the physicality or somebody willing to sacrifice their body the way [Watson] does. He's been really good at it and a lot of guys have played that way. I think that that's probably playoff hockey bringing out the best in everybody."

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