The war that has been the Predators/Blues series continued for the final time in the regular season at the Scott Trade Center. 4 of the previous 5 contests had gone the way of the Predators, with their only loss occurring in overtime, and there was nothing that the league leading Blues would like to do more than avenge some of their earlier losses.
The Predators welcomed Colin Wilson back into the line up, but were without Marty Erat for the second game in a row as well as Jordin Tootoo, who was injured in the game with Chicago.
While this game was going to be tight checking and a war among the skaters, there was also a stellar goaltending battle that was going to take place as well, as the Predators had Pekka Rinne in net while the Blues countered with Brian Elliott.
The significance of this game was twofold: with a win, the Predators could move back into 4th place in the West; and with a win, Barry Trotz would notch his 500th victory as a Head Coach, all with the Predators.
The first period was just as billed: a war. Both teams created some scoring chances, but the first 20 minutes was characterized by some ferocious checking, tight defense, and good goaltending. Both netminders were perfect, as Rinne turned away 6 shots and Elliott rejected 8.
The second period opened with the Blues putting pressure on the Predators and generating some good chances. The Blues finally capitalized as Jason Arnott fed Jamie Langenbrunner in the slot and he buried the wrister to give the Blues a 1-0 lead at 6:35 of the second period. Langenbrunner worked himself free and was alone in the slot to take the shot.
Save for the Langenbrunner goal, the second period was a mirror image of the first, with both teams trying to solve the others defense and goaltender. The Predators out shot the Blues 12-7, but could not solve Elliott, who was outstanding in net.
In the third period, the Predators were going to have to get more traffic to the front of the net to try and take advantage of the rebounds that Elliott was leaving on the ice. This was going to be a tall order, as the Blues defense had so far done a good job of collapsing around Elliott.
It was going to be a matter of "want to" for the Predators in the third period.
So much for "want to" as the Blues continued to win puck battles and clog the neutral zone. Their effort paid off as David Backes got the puck to David Perron who beat Kevin Klein to the front of the net and beat Rinne with a backhand to give the Blues a 2-0 lead at 4:47 of the third period.
The Predators caught a break when it appeared that the Blues scored as David Perron shoved the puck into the net, but the goal was waved off as it was deemed by the officials that Perron had pushed Rinne and the puck into the net.
At the 16:00 minute mark, T.J. Oshie beat Rinne with a backhand to make it 3-0 for the Blues, and this game was over.
The Predators got a taste of what playoff hockey will be like, and the team was found wanting. The forwards did not finish, they lost puck battles, and their compete level was not equal to that of the Blues.
This was not fun. By any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was painful.
But the Predators should learn from this. Playoff hockey is different. Tonight, the Blues played playoff hockey.
The Predators did not.
The Predators finished the regular season series with the Blues 4-1-1, capturing 9 of a possible 12 points.
That feels good.
But the Blues are the team playing like it is the playoffs. The Predators are not.
And they are going to have to elevate their level of play.
My three stars:
1. Brian Elliott
2. David Perron
3. Jamie Langenbrunner