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Predators snap Blues win streak on Neal's goal

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The Nashville Predators served notice to the rest of the Central Division heavyweights that they're not going anywhere.

James Neal's third-period goal helped the Predators defeat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 on Saturday at Scottrade Center and snap St. Louis’ seven-game win streak.

Neal scored the game-winner on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle with 6:28 remaining after taking a drop pass from Filip Forsberg.

"I just came in behind Filip and he made a good pass to drop it," Neal said. "It was funny; I told him earlier that I came in behind him and he ripped one. When I came in behind him the second time, he dropped it. He’s playing great."

The shot seemed to catch Blues goalie Brian Elliott off guard.

"I lost it in the bodies in front for a split second there," Elliott said. "I definitely want it back, especially late in the third period in a tied game, but those are going to happen too."

The Predators (9-3-2) finished their six-game trip 4-2-0, winning the final two games to move ahead of the Blues into first place in the Central Division. Forsberg had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to five games. Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for Nashville.

"I think it’s a game we marked down on our road trip that it was going to be tough," Neal said. "To come in here and be a point behind them, we knew what was at stake. They're on a little roll, and we came in and played a great 60 minutes. It feels good to have won the battle."

The Nashville win snapped St. Louis' six-game winning streak in the series. The Blues had won 10 of the previous 11.

"When you play a good team like St. Louis, you have to work from start to finish and if you don't, you probably won’t like the results," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "The ebbs and flows from the road trip, I think there were more highs than lows. It’s a real positive to play with some consistency, but it was a great way to end the trip."

The Blues (9-4-1) got a first-period goal from Jori Lehtera. Elliott made 33 saves for St. Louis, which finished a stretch of four games in six days.

"We looked slow and indecisive" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We played slow. We didn't have a lot of energy. And there were stretches where they didn't, but I thought they had better energy in the third period. We had a push at the end of the second there, but I thought they had better energy in the third period.

"We had people uncharacteristically making puck errors and looked surprised we were getting checked. We had some dozy play at times. We had a lot of pucks that came back to us. We weren't sharp. We looked slow. We looked slow in the head, slow in the feet, and we made a lot of tired plays with the puck. We looked like a team that's played a lot of hockey."

Lehtera scored off a rebound of Vladimir Tarasenko's shot from the slot to give the Blues a 1-0 lead after the first period.

Tarasenko cut to the middle of the ice and fired a shot through traffic. Lehtera came in off the right side and slid a backhand past Rinne's outstretched left skate with 5:30 remaining in the first. With linemates Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko getting assists on the goal, the trio has 17 points in the past five games.

The Blues have received inconsistent play from their other top players, including the line of Paul Stastny, David Backes and Alexander Steen, which was on the ice for both goals by the Predators' top line of Neal, Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro.

"We had too many mistakes, too many tired mistakes," Hitchcock said. "Quite frankly, we're sitting on one line doing everything for us right now. We're going to need a lot more from people if we expect to be good in this division."

Rinne and Elliott traded key saves late in the first. Rinne prevented a 2-0 Blues lead when he kicked out Backes' effort from in front shortly after Lehtera's goal. Elliott's best save came after Olli Jokinen streaked down the middle and had a chance in the slot, but Elliott kicked the shot out with his right pad.

Forsberg, who has eight points in his past five games, scored his fifth goal in that span and tied the game 1-1 when he beat Elliott from the right circle with a wrist shot glove side 7:20 into the second period.

"I've got to thank the whole team and especially my linemates for my success," Forsberg said. "They’ve been setting me up really good. I try to set them up as well."

The way the Predators were pressing, it was a matter of time before they tied the game up.

"I think we were not ready to play," Lehtera said. "You could see it from the guys. Everybody was kind of tired. We had heavy boots. We didn't get our game going. We didn't have speed."

The Predators, who come back to St. Louis on Thursday, were pleased with the trip's finish.

"This whole road trip has been good," Forsberg said. "We got four wins out of six; that's a good road record. We got to keep building on this and taking the good play back home.

"It's still pretty early in the season. It was a tough game, but you just try to play really hard all the time."

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