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Nashville Predators take control of series, beat St. Louis Blues 3-1

By
Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
Nashville took a 2-1 series lead after being St. Louis 3-1 on Sunday. Photo courtesy Nashville Predators via Twitter.
Nashville took a 2-1 series lead after being St. Louis 3-1 on Sunday. Photo courtesy Nashville Predators via Twitter.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If you keep the puck, the other team can't score. And eventually, you will.

Playing hockey's version of keep-away most of Sunday, the Nashville Predators owned wide advantages in faceoffs and shots, cashing in enough of their chances to earn a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues that gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.

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Nashville won 39 of 63 faceoffs, with Calle Jarnkrok going 16-of-19 in the dot. It put 34 shots on net to St. Louis' 23 and had a 59-48 advantage in total shots on the day. It led to lots of zone time, most notably on the sequence that decided the game.

Leading 2-1 with 7:31 remaining, the Predators hemmed the Blues in their defensive zone for 1:42, even after St. Louis won the draw and took the puck away. But it couldn't clear the zone as Nashville cycled the puck for so long that it was able to execute a line change.

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Finally, Colton Sissons feathered the puck to the blue line. Roman Josi unloaded a bomb that Jake Allen couldn't see because of a Harry Zolnierczyk screen. The goal at 14:11 effectively ended the Blues' hopes of regaining home ice advantage on this day.

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"It's about possession," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "The whole game is about getting the puck or having the puck. That's basically the starting point."

Josi's goal was his third of the playoffs and the seventh by a Nashville defenseman in seven postseason matches. Another defenseman, Ryan Ellis initiated scoring in Game 3 three seconds after a failed power play with a one-timer from 36 feet out at 10:34 of the first period.

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It was Ellis' third postseason goal and marked his sixth straight playoff game with a point. Ellis' eight points lead all Predators in the playoffs.

"It's about getting pucks through and making good plays at the right time," Ellis said of his postseason success. "I'm playing with pretty good players, too. They're doing their job."

Nashville's other goal further epitomized why it's 6-1 in this postseason. Cody McLeod, who didn't dress at all during the 4-0 first round sweep of Chicago and played a combined 16:57 in the first two games of this series in St. Louis, made it 2-0 at 2:29 of the second period by backhanding the rebound of his tip try.

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It was the third career playoff marker for McLeod, inserted in this series by Laviolette to provide more of a physical presence against a Blues' team built to wear opponents down by taking the body.

"Any time you can be a plus line or chip one in like we did in Game 1," said McLeod, referring to Vernon Fiddler's game-winner late in the third period Wednesday night, "it's obviously going to help. So far, so good."

McLeod's goal was part of a dizzying flurry during the first 12-plus minutes of the second period. Buzzing the St. Louis zone at will, the Predators fired 15 shots in that span at Jake Allen, who stopped 14 of them and single-handedly kept his team in contention.

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The Blues got nothing through to Pekka Rinne during that stretch as the puck appeared quarantined on their end. When St. Louis finally mustered a shot on net, Alexander Steen deflected Alex Pietrangelo's point wrister at 12:59 to draw it within 2-1.

Robert Bortuzzo rang the post behind Rinne in the third period's first five minutes, but the Blues couldn't generate any real sustained pressure after that until pulling Allen for the last 4:09. Rinne was equal to the task, finishing with 22 saves for the day.

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St. Louis coach Mike Yeo hinted at potential lineup changes for Game 4 Tuesday night.

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"They took their game to another level tonight and we didn't match it," he said. "For a large part of the game, we weren't competitive at the level we needed to be."

Allen finished with 31 stops, including a pair of brilliant saves which denied Ellis and Filip Forsberg goals. But against an opponent which stayed in control of the puck, Allen simply couldn't stop everything.

"The more you have the puck," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said, "the less defense you play."

NOTES: Nashville D P.K. Subban had a Montreal restaurant named after him for the playoffs' remainder. Chez Serge is known as Chez Subban until the Predators are eliminated or hoist the Stanley Cup. ... St. Louis didn't have to ice its penalty-killing unit in Game 2, the first time it's accomplished that in a playoff game since 1987. ... The Blues scratched RW Dmitrij Jaskin, D Jordan Schmaltz, G Luke Opilka, LW Magnus Paajarvi, RW Nail Yakupov and LW Zach Sanford. ... Predators scratches were D Anthony Bitetto, RW PA Parenteau, RW Craig Smith (injured), D Brad Hunt, C Frederick Gaudreau, G Marek Mazanec, LW Pontus Aberg and C Vernon Fiddler.

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