NASHVILLE – Nashville coach Barry Trotz sounded as though he wanted to send the St. Louis Blues a thank-you note for giving the Predators a preview of playoff intensity.
Martin Erat scored the lone goal of the shootout, and the Predators beat the Blues 2-1 on Saturday night to wrap up the regular season after a final week with only two games.
“We had a little bit of time off and sort of lost a little bit of our edge,” Trotz said. “St. Louis forced us to bring our level up, even though it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. We had to compete hard to win this hockey game.”
The Predators won three of the final four and reached 100 points for the third time in franchise history. They have a chance to finish as high as fifth in the Western Conference but will need Chicago to beat Detroit, and Colorado to down Los Angeles on Sunday to avoid falling as far as seventh.
“Our first goal of the season this year was to obviously make the playoffs, and 100 points I don’t know if that’ll get us fifth or get us seventh. I have no idea,” Trotz said.
Jason Arnott scored the regulation goal for Nashville, which won the season series with St. Louis 5-1. Pekka Rinne stopped David Perron and Andy McDonald, and Brad Boyes missed in his last chance to continue the shootout.
Steve Sullivan missed the puck on Nashville’s first shot and tried to tap it in on a second try, but that is not allowed. Erat, skating second, beat Ty Conklin’s glove for the win.
David Backes scored St. Louis’ lone goal.
This was the seventh time in 13 games the Predators had gone to overtime and they were 6-1 in those games. They went to the shootout when David Legwand just missed outside the post on a rush with just over a minute left in overtime. Conklin blocked Arnott’s shot with 30 seconds remaining.
Keith Tkachuk sat out one night after he played at home in St. Louis, marking his final NHL game after 19 seasons. St. Louis also scratched defenceman Barret Jackman and centre T.J. Oshie among others. The Blues went young, starting started prospects Lars Eller and Jonas Junland.
“We finished a game that meant something to us,” Blues coach Davis Payne said. “It didn’t mean anything as far as next week goes, but it meant something to us as far as the standard we want to play with going forward.”
That seemingly made it easier for Nashville to finish the regular season with a win. But the Predators came out sluggish, while the Blues scrapped for the puck all over the ice.
“I think it can be difficult to get excited about a game like this, not only on our side but their side, as well,” Conklin said. “We’re all professionals, and we don’t want to lose any games whether they matter in the standings or not.”
Rinne sent the game into the first intermission at 0-0 with a glove save on Alex Steen’s backhander after a breakaway attempt in the final seconds. That might have helped Nashville get going.
“We were flat in the first, but we picked it up in the second and third,” Arnott said. “I’ve got to hand it to (St. Louis). They came to play, and they didn’t quit. They played for their jersey, and they’re a hardworking team.”
Conklin helped kill all three Nashville power plays.
But Arnott put the Predators up 1-0 with a snap shot from the slot at 5:26 of the third off an assist from Shea Weber for his 19th.
Backes answered with 10:18 gone, snapping his own shot behind Rinne from between the goal line and the left circle on a nice pass from Boyes from the right circle for his 17th. Backes was mad at himself for hitting Boyes’ skate with his pass.
“Next thing I know the defence pinched in on him, and he hit me right in the wheelhouse. I wasn’t expecting the pass,” Backes said.
Rinne made a kick save on Paul Kariya who took a pass for a 1-on-2 breakaway with about five minutes left. He stopped Kariya again a couple minutes later. Rinne then stopped Matt D’Agostini with 38.8 seconds left in regulation.
NOTES: Nashville had three players appear in all 82 games this season with Legwand, the franchise leader with 704 games played, Ryan Suter (203) and Steve Sullivan (122). … Blake Geoffrion played in the NCAA Frozen Four on Saturday night for Wisconsin, but the Predators’ second-round draft pick from 2006 drew a huge ovation from the crowd during the first stoppage with the announcement of his Hobey Baker award win.