Ryan Ellis opened the scoring and Roman Josi finished it off as the Nashville Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues in Game Three by a 3-1 final on Sunday afternoon to take a 2-1 series lead. The win gives Nashville seven consecutive playoff victories at Bridgestone Arena, and after the Predators said they had more to give in Game Three, they kept their word.
“I’ll be honest, it was good to get back home in front of our fans and in the building,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was awesome today. That’s a credit to our fans and the energy that comes into this building. You guys see that and get to experience it just like we do, so that’s a real positive for us. But nobody likes losing, probably on any team, and you look for a response, and I thought the response was good today.”
“It’s a great response from last game from all of us,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “It was obviously nice to play in front of our fans and it was a big win.”
Just as they’ve done for all but one game in the playoffs, it was Nashville that opened the scoring when Ellis slid the puck through traffic for a 1-0 lead. The goal gave Ellis eight points in the postseason, good enough to lead the Preds in the category, and extended his scoring streak to six games, the longest by a defenseman in the playoffs in franchise history.
Depth scoring is a necessity in the postseason, and it was Cody McLeod who stepped up for Nashville in Game Three when he scored early in the second period to put the Preds up by two.
“He’s been a good factor in this series, and we knew that we would need him,” Laviolette said of McLeod. “We knew that he would help and contribute. Physically, he’s done a good job of just staying disciplined but playing the body hard, and when a guy like that gets a goal, it’s hard not to be happy for him.
“I might’ve [smiled a bit on the bench when he scored]. Again, a guy like that, who will do anything for his teammates – he’ll hit everybody, he’ll fight, he’ll defend any one of his teammates – when he’s able to factor into a goal like that, everybody’s happy for him.”
The Predators outshot the Blues 18-4 in the middle frame, but Alex Steen tallied the Blues’ lone goal on the visitors first shot of the period.
St. Louis brought more pressure in the third, but after they hit the post behind Rinne, sustained pressure from Nashville eventually led to a bomb from Josi to put it out of reach for the Blues and give the Preds a 3-1 lead.
“It was awesome, our building is awesome,” McLeod said. “Our fans are always rocking, so that’s good. We’ll enjoy this win and get ready to go for the next one.”
After Game Two in St. Louis, their first loss of the postseason, the sentiment in the Nashville locker room was they had another gear to hit as they returned home. Mission accomplished.
Two of Nashville’s three goals on Sunday came from defensemen, the sixth and seventh goals that have come from the Preds blue line through seven postseason games. That number leads the League, putting a spotlight on the offensive capabilities of those whose primary responsibility is to stifle the opposition attack, which they do just as well.
“It’s not just the defense, it’s the forwards too,” Josi said. “They’re doing a great job of getting pucks up to the blue line, they cycle down low and get it up to us. Even in the defensive zone, it’s always a five-man effort. Everybody’s collapsing, there’s a forward down low. The forwards are helping out if something breaks down. If we get a chance, as a D corps, there are a lot of guys who can skate and we try to join the rush and make something happen.”
And when everyone is chipping in, that can only mean good things for a Nashville team that has thrived on contributions from all through the lineup in the postseason.
“I thought that so far, this was probably one of our best games of the series,” McLeod said. “We just have to keep doing that. Give St. Louis credit, too. They’re a good hockey team, and we played well tonight.”
Defenseman Ryan Ellis has points in six straight games, one game away from tying Colin Wilson for the longest such streak in franchise playoff history. Wilson had points in seven straight games during the 2016 postseason.
Harry Zolnierczyk returned to the Predators lineup in Game Three, recording an assist and two hits in 9:24 of ice time, setting a perfect screen on the Josi goal in the third period.
Game Four between the Preds and Blues is set for Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena at 8:30 p.m. CT before the series shifts back to St. Louis for Game Five on Friday night.
Pete Weber’s Post Game Report