NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators want everything clicking when they hit the playoffs.
Ending a scoring drought on their own ice is a good – and big – start.
Steve Sullivan scored the go-ahead goal at 6:05 of the third period, and the Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Thursday night to move within a point of clinching a playoff berth. The Predators trailed 0-2 in the second before breaking a home-scoring drought that had stretched over more than eight periods.
“We’re not looking at it saying, ‘You need so many points to get in, let’s just get to it,”‘ Sullivan said. “We want to make sure we’re playing the best hockey going into the playoffs. If we’re just trying to sneak in, it’ll be a quick first-round exit, and that’s not what we want.”
Dustin Boyd and Colin Wilson scored in the second period, and Patric Hornqvist had three assists to become the first of the Predators to 50 points this season. Goalie Pekka Rinne sealed the win by stopping Blues left-winger David Perron on a breakaway attempt in the final minute.
Hornqvist got his third assist by flipping the puck down the ice. He said he was tired and trying to clear the puck. Sullivan tracked it down. He wristed the puck between former teammate Chris Mason’s outstretched glove and the post to put Nashville ahead with his 16th goal this season.
Sullivan called it a lucky bounce of the puck that resulted in his breakaway goal.
“It was probably beneficial to me since Mase didn’t have a chance to get set and read what I was going to do because it took me so long to get control,” Sullivan said.
Alexander Steen scored a power-play goal, and Andy McDonald had a goal for St. Louis, which snapped a three-game winning streak.
“We pretty much needed to win out,” Blues forward David Backes said. “It’s not entirely over, but it made our road just that much harder. We still have five games to play … we will hopefully win all five and get out 10 points and with help from other teams have a shot.”
The Blues came in hoping to play their way into the post-season just as they did a year ago in finishing 7-1-1.
But Nashville is trying to clinch its fifth playoff berth in six seasons and can do it if Calgary loses Friday at Colorado or the Predators win Saturday in Detroit.
The Predators lead the season series 4-1 after becoming the first team to win on home ice this season and finding the net for the first time since the second period of a 4-3 overtime win over Phoenix on March 25. That span had reached 191 minutes, 44 seconds – before Boyd tipped in a shot from Cody Franson with 11:12 gone in the second to pull Nashville within 2-1.
The goal was reviewed before being ruled good, a move that prompted boos from fans upset that the Blues’ first goal wasn’t reviewed despite Backes falling backward into Rinne.
Still, the Blues appeared headed to the locker room for the second intermission with the lead.
Then Nashville defenceman Dan Hamhuis started the puck toward the neutral zone. Hornqvist fought with Blues defenceman Erik Johnson for control of the puck and had spun around near the crease looking for it when Wilson, trailing the play, picked it up and put a backhander past Mason with 3.5 seconds left to tie it at 2.
“That had to hurt them,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “It gave us a boost.”
St. Louis outshot Nashville 7-1 early and went up 1-0 on a goal that had Trotz yelling at officials. Steen scored on a slap shot from the slot near the blue line, a goal that counted even though Rinne was being knocked down by Backes with 7:13 gone in the first.
Rinne was about to stop the puck when Backes fell into him, but the goalie said officials told him he was out of the crease.
“Right now I’m happy we won the game, and it’s no big deal. If the game (was) the other way around, I would be pretty mad to be honest,” Rinne said.
Mason wasn’t happy either, not after 29 saves.
“I’m definitely not going to single anyone out, but some guys showed up and worked as hard as they could, some guys didn’t,” he said. “When you’re in a desperate situation like we are, we need everybody to come and compete. We didn’t have that tonight.”
NOTES: After going 9-0-1 in one-goal games during March, Nashville is 1-0 in such games in April. … The Predators had country star Wynonna singing with the band during the first intermission. She sang one of her hits, “No One Else on Earth,” and “Freebird.” … Hornqvist has 12 points in his last 13 games for Nashville and now has a career-high 51 points this season. … Sullivan’s goal was the 255th of his career. … The Predators improved to 18-23-5 when the opponent scores first and 17-7-5 when tied after two periods. … St. Louis is 24-16-6 when scoring first. … Nashville improved to 26-6-3 against St. Louis since the start of the 2005-06 season. These teams conclude the regular season here on April 10.