Nashville Predators' James Neal yells out as he skates to join teammates after scoring a goal. File photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In many ways, the St. Louis Blues did what they wanted to do Tuesday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal against the Nashville Predators.
They played the body to the tune of 33 hits, gummed up the neutral zone and put more shots on net than Nashville for the first time in the series.
However, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, the red-hot Ryan Ellis and an absolute laser from James Neal rendered all those efforts useless.
Rinne's 32 saves, plus goals from Ellis and Neal almost eight minutes apart in the third period, led the Predators to a 2-1 win at raucous Bridgestone Arena, giving Nashville a 3-1 series lead.
In upping its playoff record to 7-1, Nashville moved into position to clinch the best-of-seven series Friday night in Game 5 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Predators are attempting to reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
"I don't think anyone's looking past the next game," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We know they will come out hard with their lives on the line. We want to put on a great performance."
If the Predators need an example, they only have to look at Rinne and Ellis. Playing probably his best game of the series, Rinne was sharp from the get-go. He denied Vladimir Tarasenko twice on point-blank looks from the high slot before the midway point of the first period.
Rinne then turned aside five shots during the Blues' first power play that bridged the second and third periods. His best save might have been a glove stop on Alex Pietrangelo's wrister late in the man advantage.
After Rinne kept Nashville from ceding the first goal, the Predators appeared to get a break when the teams scrummed in front of the home bench early in the third period of a scoreless game. With players from both teams firing punches, the referees assessed roughing minors to Joel Edmundson and Ryan Reaves of St. Louis, along with Cody McLeod of Nashville.
That led to a power play as Blues coach Mike Yeo screamed at referee Dan O'Rourke. Yeo would be no happier after Ellis pounced on the rebound of a Colin Wilson shot and wired a wrister past Jake Allen at 5:09.
Ellis scored his fourth goal of the playoffs, and he tallied a point for the seventh straight game, tying Wilson's playoff franchise record set a year ago. It also made Ellis the first defenseman with a seven-game point streak in the playoffs since Chris Pronger and Jason Woolley did it in 1998.
"You do whatever it takes," Ellis said. "It's about throwing pucks at the net. You never know what will happen."
Yeo accused the Predators of earning calls via a steady discourse with the officials.
"Every stoppage, they're yelling at the refs," he said. "They're talking to the refs ... it's been that way all series."
Kay Whitmore, the officiating supervisor assigned to the series by the NHL, termed the penalties assessed to Edmundson and Reaves a judgment call. Whitmore declined further comment.
Neal supplied the eventual game-winner when he won a puck near the top of the right circle, spun and ripped a wrister over Allen's stick side at 13:03 for his second tally of the postseason.
"I got my stick on it and just tried to put it on net," Neal said.
Edmundson gave St. Louis hope with a one-timer from the left circle at 16:11, his third goal of the playoffs.
The Blues pulled Allen with 2:43 left and came agonizingly close to equalizing with 1:08 remaining, but Paul Stastny couldn't corral a loose puck at the left post with an empty net staring at him.
Allen enjoyed another good game, saving 23 of 25 shots and coming up with a bunch of big stops. Neal could have initiated the scoring shortly after Pietrangelo's point-blank chance as he got to a rebound, but Allen stretched out his left toe and kicked the puck away.
However, Rinne, Ellis and Nashville pushed St. Louis to the cliff's edge.
"They played a good game," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of the Blues. "It was tight. Chances were hard to come by. But our guys have confidence and a good belief in the room."
NOTES: St. Louis made lineup changes, inserting LW Magnus Paajarvi and LW Zach Sanford while scratching C Ivan Barbashev and C Kyle Brodziak. ... Nashville recalled C Frederick Gaudreau along with D Alexandre Carrier, D Jack Dougherty, D Petter Granberg and D Trevor Murphy from AHL Milwaukee. All were scratched for the game. ... Other Blues scratches were RW Dmitrij Jaskin, D Luke Schmaltz, G Luke Opilka and RW Nail Yakupov. ... The Predators also scratched D Anthony Bitetto, RW PA Parenteau, RW Craig Smith (injury), D Brad Hunt, LW Pontus Aberg, LW Vernon Fiddler and G Marek Mazanec.