Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
What a bizarre second-round playoff series this has been between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. The Blues arguably outplayed the Predators in game one, especially in the third period, out-shooting them, 11-6, but lost, 4-3. The Preds arguably outplayed the Note in game two, particularly in the third period, out-shooting them, 15 to 6, but lost, 3-2.
In Nashville, it was expected that the Predators would wreak havoc on the Blues, primarily since Nashville excelled at Bridgestone Arena with a record of 24-9-8 during the regular season. And game three totally fulfilled that expectation.
It was obvious by the end of the first period that Nashville would win this game. The Blues were on their heels from the get-go, especially after being knocked around and crosschecked by various Predators many times without any penalties whistled. Ryan Reaves was crosschecked three consecutive times by P.K. Subban, and when he retaliated with an elbow, it was then, and only then, that the referee’s arm went up. David Perron was knocked into the boards by Roman Josi (and a skate “somehow” came up and hit DP_57 in the face), yet no interference penalty was called even though Perron never played the puck.
Alexander Steen was mauled by Subban, hit with a forearm and then tackled. For sure, Steen retaliated with a slash, yet two-minute penalties were called on both, although Subban deserved another for the obvious roughing. Subban was charged with holding.
The Blues battled back, and despite being out shot, 18 to 4, cut the Predator’s lead in half on a Steen deflection of an Alex Pietrangelo shot from the point. Once again, Jake Allen was brilliant, with 17 saves. The first half of the third period was fairly even, both teams with four shots. However, an extended shift by Nashville that exhausted Blues’ defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko led to Josi’s third goal of the playoffs and pretty much sealed the deal. The never-say-die Blues kept at it, though, out-shooting Nashville five to nothing the rest of the way (just under six minutes).
And once again the national television audience was treated to the obnoxious chant of “Allen . . . you suck . . . It’s all your fault” from the backward, cloddish Nashville fans.
It might appear penalties favored the Blues to that point, with seven power plays in three games and the Predator’s with six, yet in two games, it was three to one in Nashville’s favor. No surprise the Preds won both of those games, while the Note won the game in which they were favored by the refs. There’s no complaint here about penalties whistled on the Blues. Rather, the criticism is about the lack of calls on obvious Nashville infractions, especially crosschecking.
Regardless, it’s clear the Blues were not competitive for most of game three and deserved their fate. As coach Mike Yeo pointed out, Nashville raised their level of play and St. Louis was unable to match it.
So, game four started with a good scoreless first period, as the Blues out shot the Predators, 9-7, despite a slashing call on Patrik Berglund. A crosscheck by Cody McLeod to Scottie Upshall’s back was ignored, as were blatant charges on David Perron along the boards and on Colton Parayko behind the net.
The scoreless second period began with a high hit on Jay Bouwmeester by Austin Watson with contact to the head, which was not deemed illegal. It appeared that the Blues would get their first power play of the game when Magnus Paajarvi was leveled behind the net by Watson, well after No. 56 played the puck (interference), but instead, Paajarvi was called for tripping as Harry Zolnierczyk “tripped” over Magnus’ stick, the blade of which was wedged into the netting of the goal. St. Louis finally got a power play with 52 seconds left in the period and had several good chances but couldn’t score.
The third period started with Allen putting on quite a show, making several spectacular saves with calm, cool determination. But, of course, the Blues got the extra penalty after a scrum around the four-minute mark, a call for which there was no apparent reason. And, also of course, Ryan Ellis scored on the subsequent power play. And, of course, Edmundson got a penalty for a high hit on Subban (pretty much the same thing Watson did to Bouwmeester in the second period), even though it was balanced out with an embellishment call on Subban. The Blues finally got a break when Ryan Johansen tripped Berglund with just under 12 minutes left in the game, but -- of course -- that was negated by a questionable too-many-men call against St. Louis a minute later.
And then, James Neal scored an unassisted goal with just under seven minutes left to seal the Note’s fate. What really hurt was that the Blues should have easily cleared the puck on that play (twice). Edmundson’s goal with just under four minutes to go was nice but didn’t tie the game. It did make for an exciting final two minutes, though, as St. Louis battled hard to knot the score to no avail.
Once again, the team with more power plays won, even though the Blues out-shot the Preds, 14 to 10, in the third period and 32 to 25 overall. It hasn’t helped that the Note is two for 24 on the power play (8.3%) in the playoffs, while allowing six power plays against on 28 kills (78.6%).
So it’s do or die, win or go home, tonight. I hate elimination games, especially when the Blues are the ones facing elimination.