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Playoffs: Four Deciding Factors in Preds vs. Blues

Pekka Rinne and Jake Allen Were Both Nearly Unbeatable in Round One

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

Pekka Rinne: Yes, the Finnish netminder deserves his own section.

Rinne turned aside 123 of 126 shots in the Round One playoff series, for a gaudy stat line of a .976 save percentage and 0.70 goals-against average. Can Rinne maintain that kind of production? It may seem like an outlandish request, but his opponent for Round Two isn't far behind.

Jake Allen has a .956 save percentage to go with a 1.47 goals-against average after his stellar performance in the First Round. If Rinne stole Game One for Nashville (with a 29-save shutout), then Allen did the same against Minnesota, by making 51 saves in the Blues' overtime triumph.

"He was amazing," defenseman Josi said after Rinne's Game One shutout. "What a great game by him. I thought we played pretty solid in the first, played a good first period, but after that they were all over us. Especially in the second, Peks made some unbelievable saves and he was great, not much more you can say."

New Coach: The 2016-17 campaign is one of two halves for the St. Louis Blues.

Previously two wins away from the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, a 24-21-5 record on Feb. 1 wasn't good enough for Ken Hitchcock to finish out his sixth season behind the bench in St. Louis.

Enter associate coach Mike Yeo, who most recently had the lead job in Minnesota, and the Blues have looked like a very different team down the final two months of the regular season. Add in the Blues defensive domination of Yeo's old club in Round One, and it would appear Nashville and St. Louis are looking at a lot of future one-goal games in their series.

Since Yeo took over in St. Louis, the Blues are allowing less than two goals a game on average, a mark that's No. 1 in the NHL. Before that, they were giving up more than 3.1 goals per game.

Team Game: The Predators sweep of the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks in Round One is currently the story of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. How Nashville so effectively shut down the Hawks' stars probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise.

The Preds' top-four defensemen (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban) did a brilliant job of forcing Chicago to the outside in the offensive zone and rarely allowed the opposition a second-chance opportunity. Josi and Ellis also chipped in timely scoring with Josi scoring twice in Game Four and Ellis burying the game-winner in Game Two.

Still, it's been a five-man system that's helped these four stars on the blue line keep the puck out of the net. Players like Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Mike Fisher have helped front the attack up toward the blue line and in the neutral zone and the results have been stunning. In four playoff games, Nashville has given up one 5-on-5 goal (three total), including two shutouts.

"I've said it before, but I think as a team, we defend so well," Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne said after Game Two. "They box out, let me see the puck, and tonight, there wasn't probably one shot where I didn't see it. The guys have been doing a really good job in front of me, and personally, [I'm] feeling good, just seeing the puck pretty good right now."

Offensive Wild Cards? With all the talk about defense, you may be surprised to hear the Preds and Blues each finished in the top half of League scoring during 2016-17.

Nashville averaged 2.90 goals per game (11th) through 82 regular-season games, while St. Louis was immediately behind them in the rankings (2.84 goals per game for 12th). The defensive gap isn't much wider either, with the Blues ranking 13th (2.63 goals against per game) and the Preds 15th (2.68 goals against per game).

It may be reinforcements that swing the series for either team. For the Blues, Vladimir Sobotka has three points (1g-2a) in the playoffs after returning from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in April from a three-year absence. The forward left during the summer of 2014 to play with Avangard Omsk, but returned to St. Louis just before the end of the regular season and signed a three-year contract with the Blues.

The Blues may also get an added boost from top-center Paul Stastny, who returned from injury at the end of their First Round series against the Wild.

Likewise, Nashville is hoping to see the return of power forward Colin Wilson, who missed the entire Round One series with a lower-body injury. Wilson joined the club for practice on Sunday, and if he is able to take to the ice in Round Two, he would do so as one of the team's most-proven postseason scorers.

Wilson paced the Preds with 13 points (5g-8a) during the 2016 playoffs and notched a team-high five goals in a 2015 Round One series versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

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