Friday, March 07, 2014
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Blues continue quest for best record with 2-1 win

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[March 07, 2014]  NASHVILLE, Tenn.  Winning the Presidents' Trophy for finishing with the NHL's best regular-season record is no guarantee of capturing the Stanley Cup.

But St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock says it is meaningful to him.

"It puts value in what's left of these (20) games," he said Thursday night after a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. "We want to take advantage of this. It's important to our guys.

"We've got 24 players on this team and two have won that trophy. That's not a very high percentage. I'd like to see the guys get rewarded for all their hard work."

The reward in this one came courtesy of Magnus Paajarvi's tiebreaking goal at 8:18 of the second period, a low wrist shot perfectly placed over the stick of goaltender Pekka Rinne, and a team defensive effort that limited Nashville to 21 shots.

St. Louis (42-14-6) won its third straight game and moved within two points of the idle Anaheim Ducks for the NHL's top record. New goaltender Ryan Miller (18-22-3), who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, notched 20 saves in winning his third consecutive start.

"No one wants to hear a goalie complaining about too few shots," he said. "I'm happy to be a part of this club and they play a good brand of hockey. It's my job to do a job  stop the puck, keep myself alert, energetic and engaged. In this league, there are going to be opportunities."

Those became fewer and fewer as the game progressed. After Paajarvi's goal, the Blues clamped down defensively, making it harder for the Predators to gain the offensive zone. Nashville managed just one shot on net for the first 12-plus minutes of the third period.

"They don't give you much," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "They lock you down and swarm on you. They're committed to blocking shots and taking away (passing) lanes. They're a veteran team and they do a good job of limiting your chances."

St. Louis defenseman Ian Cole opened the scoring at 4:03 of the first period, whipping a 43-foot wrister over Rinne's left shoulder into the net's upper left corner. It was Cole's third goal and marked the first time in five games that the Blues had scored the first goal.

But the Predators controlled the period's remainder, equalizing at 10:28 as left winger Nick Spaling tipped a centering pass from right winger Patric Hornqvist through Miller's legs for his 11th goal of the season.

[to top of second column]

Nashville (26-27-10) owned a 12-5 advantage in shots on goal at one point in the second period but generated only nine shots in the last 35 minutes.

"Other than a 4-on-4 (in the third period), we gave them nothing for 35 minutes," Hitchcock said. "I thought we played a very good second period and a great third period."

Playing his second game after a 51-game absence because of surgery that removed a spontaneous bacterial infection from his hip in late October, Rinne (4-6-1) made 20 saves and did his part to keep the Predators in contention.

Rinne denied left winger Alexander Steen his 30th goal at 15:33 of the second period with a glove save on a penalty shot. Later, he saved a point-blank wrist shot from center David Backes.

However, Nashville could not generate enough chances on offense and dropped its third straight game, falling eight points behind the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"This is not how we wanted to come out of the (Olympic) break," center Colin Wilson said. "Obviously, we wanted to come out on a roll and haven't been able to. It makes every game just count more."

NOTES: St. Louis is on pace for 119 points, five better than the 1999 Dallas Stars, who won the Stanley Cup. That team was coached by current Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. ... RW Patrick Eaves dressed and played on a line with C Paul Gaustad and LW Rich Clune in his first game with Nashville. Eaves was acquired Wednesday from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for C David Legwand, the Predators' first-ever draft pick in 1998. ... St. Louis has nine players with at least 30 points, more than any other team in the NHL. ... Nashville boasts the youngest defense corps in the NHL with an average age of 24 years, 25 days. That is almost two years younger than No. 2 Columbus (25 years, 351 days).

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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