Ryan Ellis clutch again for Predators in Game 4 win
Defenseman scores against Blues to tie Nashville playoff record with seven-game point streakby Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor
NASHVILLE -- Ryan Ellis was sitting peacefully at his locker after the morning skate Tuesday, casually taking off his equipment.
No one was really bothering him.
Finally, he was asked what life is like for him playing for the Nashville Predators, the burgeoning star of an elite defense who has taken some time reaching this status.
His face is on the side of Bridgestone Arena and he is inarguably one of the most important players on the Predators, but life for Ellis in Nashville is a serene existence, free of some of the nuisances celebrity life can offer.
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"There are a lot of other big stars in this town, so I don't get bothered much," Ellis said, referring to all the country music celebrities who live in Nashville. "People are really good about that here."
Well, that might be about to change, because Ellis is taking over Nashville's Western Conference Second Round series against the St. Louis Blues.
Ellis scored in a third straight game Tuesday to help the Predators to a 2-1 win in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, but that is far from all he did to leave his fingerprints on this game, although you would never know it to hear him describe it.
Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Ellis cleans up rebound for PPG
Ellis' goal extended his point streak to seven games (four goals, five assists), tying forward Colin Wilson for the longest during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Predators history. He scored in typical Ellis fashion, on a bomb of a slap shot on the power play at 5:09 of the third period, a goal that caused coach Peter Laviolette to jump behind the Nashville bench and give an emphatic fist pump.
"It was just another fortunate bounce," Ellis said of his goal. "I took a shot, it got blocked, everyone was kind of looking for it, I was on the outside of the pile and the guys on the ice did a terrific job, not only battling for the pucks, but creating a screen, creating a scramble. I was just the fortunate guy on the right side."
Just before his goal, Ellis made a tremendous play to keep the puck in the Blues' zone by stopping a clearing attempt by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, one Pietrangelo had time to put a slap shot on, but one that Ellis somewhat magically stopped with his stick. He recalled the play, and somehow felt it was appropriate to start by complimenting Pietrangelo.
"He's a really smart player, he makes unbelievable plays at the right times," Ellis said. "It was really just a guessing game. Is he going to rim it? Is he going to try to go up the middle? Just take a wild guess. I mean, most times you're wrong. That was just kind of a lucky play. It landed on my stick and the rest of the guys battled for the puck after that."
Yup, all luck.
With 36.7 seconds remaining in the second period, Ellis saved a goal by sweeping a shot by Blues forward Jaden Schwartz off the goal line that had gotten behind goaltender Pekka Rinne, something he has shown a knack for doing all season. That knack, according to Ellis, is a sign he is playing poorly.
Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Rinne, Ellis team up to keep puck out
"It's probably because I'm out of position or something," he said. "No, [Rinne] battles and we go to battle for him. It just kind of squirted out and just a little team effort me and [Rinne] and everyone on the ice."
That play was officially a blocked shot, something Ellis did again as he spent most of the final two minutes of the game on the ice blocking shots by Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko to help preserve the Predators' one-goal lead.
Luckily, there are other people on the Predators to talk about just how great Ellis has been in this series, and perhaps no one said it as succinctly and as accurately as Laviolette.
"Both ends of the ice," he said, "he does everything for us."
Rinne is the Predators' longest-serving player, and has seen Ellis' slow ascension to this position, from being the No. 11 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, to bouncing back and forth between Nashville and Milwaukee of the American Hockey League for two seasons, to seeing his ice time grow in large increments in each of the past three seasons.
Rinne knows how long this journey has been for Ellis, and he is happy to see that he has arrived at a place he always knew he could be.
"He's just playing really like a veteran player," Rinne said. "Obviously right now he's having a lot of success, but I think it was just a matter of time before that was going to happen with all the skill level, his shot and his very high hockey IQ.
"Those are some of the things that make him a very special player."
Those are also some of the things that will make Ryan Ellis a household name around the NHL, including here in Nashville, where his days of wandering the streets anonymously may be coming to an end.
Asked after the game if he thinks he'll be able to walk around town unnoticed, Ellis laughed and said, "Maybe if I shed the beard."
At this point, even that might not work.