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Preds blank Blues to sweep season series

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Chris Mason
Photo by John Russell
Goaltender Chris Mason, who stopped all 27 Blues shots Tuesday night, has allowed one goal in his last three starts.
Predators goaltender Chris Mason stopped all 27 shots he faced Tuesday night to earn his third consective win and second shutout in his last three games with a 2-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Savvis Center. Mason looked confident in his first outing since Monday's announcement that he would be assuming the No. 1 role in place of injured goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who will miss the remainder of the season and playoffs with a blood condition.

Predators forward Mike Sillinger scored midway through the third period to break a 0-0 deadlock in what was an entertaining duel between Mason and St. Louis netminder Jason Bacashihua. Adam Hall added an empty net goal in the final half-minute to secure the win, which improves Nashville's season record to 46-25-8. The Predators--currently holders of home-ice advantage with a fourth-place ranking in the Western Conference--have also hit the 100-point milestone for the first time in franchise history, moving four points ahead of the fifth-place Mighty Ducks of Anaheim with three games remaining for each club.

"St. Louis has had a lot of injuries and are missing a lot of players from their lineup, but you know, they've been playing everybody tough," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said. "They beat Edmonton the other night. We just wanted to somehow get the points. We found a way to get the goal at the right time and shut them down in the other areas. Two points is two points at this time of year. We need it to get closer to our goal, which is to try to get fourth place."

Aided by a power play 2:51 into the game, the Predators were dominant in the first six-and-a-half minutes with lots of possession time in the Blues zone. Mason was tested more as the opening period progressed, stopping Kevin Dallman, Jeff Hoggan and Steve Poapst on quality chances. The Nashville goaltender's best saves would come in the second period, however.

Just over six minutes into the middle frame, St. Louis forward Dean McAmmond carried the puck coast-to-coast along the right boards, stopping at the far goal line and spotting Dennis Wideman in the left circle. Wideman one-timed McAmmond's cross-ice feed right on net, but a stretching split save by Mason robbed the Blues defenseman. Later in the period, a defensive zone face-off win by St. Louis sent the puck to Wideman, who sent a long pass over two lines to Scott Young, sending the winger in alone on a breakaway. Mason denied Young's low scoring attempt--one of three notable saves Mason made on Young during the period.

At the other end, Bacashihua was authoring some uncanny stops to keep his team even with Nashville on the scoreboard. Early in the second period, the St. Louis goaltender scrambled to prevent a David Legwand shot that hit the post from caroming back across the goal line. Later he was at the right place at the right time as Sillinger's shot from the slot was deflected suprisingly toward the lower left corner of the goal by a defender; Bacashihua's outstretched right leg pad was in perfect position to repel the puck. He denied Kariya on three separate occasions during the second period--once on a point-blank redirection, once on a one-timer from the left circle, and once on a breakaway that Bacashihua short-circuited by sliding out toward Kariya and poking the puck away.

"I thought Bacashihua and Mason both played very well," Peterson said. "They weren't tested a lot, but there were some power plays on both sides that gave some chances, some screened shots. Both were very solid and made good saves when they had to make them."

Midway through the third, the Predators really began to turn up the heat by stringing together one strong shift after the next. While they were giving up a few chances to the Blues, they were generating many more in the St. Louis zone.

The pressure paid off at 12:15 when Sillinger, who was acquired earlier this season from St. Louis, scored against his former team to give Nashville the 1-0 lead. The play began with Brendan Witt delivering a stout check behind the Predators net to free up the puck for forward Scott Nichol. Nichol rushed the puck up the ice and centered to Sillinger as a three-on-three developed. Sillinger passed to Scott Walker on his left, then Walker returned the puck to Sillinger who was driving the net. The deflection shot went wide to the left of St. Louis' net, but rebounded off the end boards and hit the outside of the goal netting behind the left post. Having lost sight of the puck, Bacashihua was moving and looking in the other direction when Sillinger reached from behind the goal line and swept the puck into the empty side.

That line of Nichol, Walker and Sillinger went on to create a number of other great chances in the third. "Those guys all played a good game tonight, especially Nichol and Walker," Peterson said. "They worked hard and did a real good job. Because of the guys with injuries, we've never really been able to get set lines. We've had to move guys around and use Nichol in all areas--wing and center.... Those guys are causing a lot of trouble with their speed and it's been a real good sign to see Walker come back and get his legs underneath him and get playing like we know he can."

St. Louis was desperate to tie the game late, and pulled Bacashihua for an extra attacker. While on the forecheck, Hall stole the puck from Young in the right circle of the Blues zone and quickly whirled a backhand shot into the empty net at 19:38. The unassisted goal clinched the win for the visitors, giving them a road record of 17-17-7.

"Our goals were fourth place, 100 points and to be .500 on the road--and we found a way to climb back up to [.500] today," Peterson said. "That's a good sign that we can still win on the road. One-hundred points is a great year for a young team like ours."

While two of the three regular season goals have been achieved, work still remains on the last one--a fourth-place finish. "We've still got to win one, maybe two more to clinch fourth place," Peterson said. "That's not going to guarantee anything in the first round, but it's certainly going to help us to start at home and have that extra game at home. So that's what our goal is."

Notes: Nashville is now 16-19 all-time against the Blues with six ties. The Predators have gone 9-1-1-0 against St. Louis in the past 11 meetings, and have outscored their Central Division rival 25-10 in eight games this season... Chris Mason, who has shut out the Blues in St. Louis twice within the past five days, now has an overall record of 9-5-1 this season. He has three career shutouts... Mike Sillinger's last two goals have come against his most recent former team. His goal Tuesday gave him 29 on the season, and he now has eight points (5g-3a) in his last 10 games... Adam Hall's goal was his 14th of the season--two away from his career high set in 2002-03 with Nashville--and the Predators' third empty net goal of the season... Scott Walker's assist on Sillinger's goal was his first point in eight games since returning from a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup for 16 games. Nashville is 19-8-3 with Walker in the lineup... Sillinger and Paul Kariya each posted a game-high six shots... Brendan Witt posted a game-high +2 rating and led all players with four hits... The Predators have killed off 32 consecutive penalties, holding opposing power-play units scoreless for five straight games. "We're using more guys to kill because it takes a good effort," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said. "We're using lots of forwards and more d-men, and using shorter shifts. The guys are responding, and the goaltender is always your best penalty killer. The goaltending has been good. It's a good effort for the last few games"... Scratches for Nashville Tuesday were Tomas Vokoun, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan, Vern Fiddler, Marek Zidlicky, Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Suter... Attendance at the Savvis Center was 13,791.

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