Preds can advance to first conference final tonight

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ST. LOUIS — Pekka Rinne was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the eighth round in 2004, back when the franchise was celebrating its first playoff appearance.

Thirteen years, 11 NHL seasons and 564 games later, Rinne and the team that drafted him in a round that no longer exists are a win away from reaching a place they’ve never been before.

If Nashville can eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal Friday night at Scottrade Center, it will earn its first conference final spot.

“It would be huge for the organization,” Rinne said Tuesday night after stopping 32 shots in a 2-1 Game 4 win that gave the Predators a 3-1 series lead. “Our fans, our players and the city are hungry for the next round. When you have a chance to close these things out, you really have to step on their throat.”

Nashville proved to be superb closers in the first round, sending the Chicago Blackhawks home in four straight games, including a 4-1 victory in Game 4. While it has been the better team in this round as well, evidence suggests this closeout game might not go as smoothly as the first one.

St. Louis played well for most of Game 4, doing most of what it pledged to do after a 3-1 defeat in Game 3 which wasn’t close. It played more physically, outshot the Predators for the first time in the series and won 53 percent of faceoffs.

But Rinne, Ryan Ellis and James Neal offset the Blues’ solid performance with their heroics. Rinne improved to 7-1 in the playoffs with a microscopic 1.33 goals-against average, upping his save percentage to .953.

Ellis scored in his seventh straight game, tying the franchise playoff record with his fourth goal of the playoffs early in the third period. Neal supplied the game-winner with a spinning wrist shot that beat Jake Allen over the stick side with just under seven minutes left.

It capped Neal’s best game of the postseason. The right winger fired 10 shots in Game 4 and could have scored another goal were it not for Allen’s terrific stop early in the third period.

“You’re fighting for every chance you get and every piece of ice,” Neal said. “It’s a tough game, so you try to get good looks. When you get good looks, you try to get them off good.”

St. Louis doesn’t plan to change a whole lot from Game 4, other than perhaps reducing its time in the penalty box. The Blues took seven minors Tuesday night after drawing six in Game 3.

Nashville has three power play markers in the series and two other goals that occurred less than 30 seconds after 5-on-4 time ended.

“I think we did a lot of things better tonight than we have in the previous games,” St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said after Game 4. “We put a lot more emphasis on the small things shot blocks and communication being there.”

Should the Blues stave off elimination, Game 6 would occur Sunday in Nashville.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to continue playoff push against Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The St. Louis Blues are one of the many teams in the middle of the free-for-all playoff race that is the Western Conference and are in desperate need of wins. They got a huge one on Saturday night by defeating the New York Rangers in overtime, and now they need to come back 24 hours later and try to get another one when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

The only downside to Saturday’s win is that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko left the game due to an injury.

His status for Sunday is uncertain at this point, but it would obviously be a pretty significant blow to the Blues’ lineup if he is unable to go.

He is the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) and is second in total points with 57, trailing only the 59 that Brayden Schenn has.

The Blues enter the day three points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and have a chance to pick up a couple of more points in that race if they can knock off a Blackhawks team that is, if we are being completely honest, going in the tank down the stretch.

After losing to Buffalo on Saturday the Blackhawks are just 8-18-2 in their past 28 games.

This is one of three games that the Blues have remaining with the Blackhawks down the stretch.

St. Louis has been through a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks recently. It is a stretch that included a pretty significant collapse in the standings, a major trade (Paul Stastny), and some significant injuries. But they are still alive in the playoff race, barely, thanks to wins in three of their past four games.

They desperately need another one on Sunday night.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Shutouts for three, Dubnyk gets win No. 200

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Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils and Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do we begin on the night of the shutout? Rask didn’t have a particularly busy night making 23 saves, but when you’re facing names like Kucherov and Stamkos, it’s always dangerous. Still, Rask kept rolling along. He is 27-3-2 in his past 32 starts. That’s just silly. … Kinkaid, meanwhile stopped 38 — including 19 in the first period — in a 3-0 win against the Kings for his fourth career shutout. … No Frederik Andersen for Toronto? No problem. McElhinney stepped in and pitched a 33-save performance as the Leafs down the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The Blues defenseman scored twice in regulation and then assisted on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime winner to cap off a three-point night.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While he didn’t get a shutout, Dubnyk did stop 30 of 31 en route to his 200th career NHL win. The win was also important for the Wild, who moved to within five points of the Winnipeg Jets for second place in the Central Division, and moved five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for third place.

Highlights of the Night:

Filthy pass:

First-goal celebrations are always the best:

Voracek with a slick move in front:

Save of the year candidate:

Factoids of the Night:

Home is where the wins are:

A legend passes a legend:

Believe in McJesus:

Scary Scenes of the Night:


Sabres 5, Blackhawks 3

Oilers 4, Panthers 2

Devils 3, Kings 0

Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 0

Bruins 3, Lightning 0

Flyers 4, Hurricanes 2

Blue Jackets 2, Senators 1

Blue 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Wild 3, Coyotes 1

Sharks 5, Canucks 3

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

He did not return to the game.

If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck