Nashville ousts Blues, head to Western fi­nal

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERESA M. WALKER

Ryan Jo­hansen cel­e­brated his game-win­ning goal with a wind­mill fist pump, and the Nashville Preda­tors fin­ished off the rest of a thrilling third pe­riod with the stand­ing-room only crowd on their feet an­tic­i­pat­ing his­tory.

Yes, the team that plays in a place called “Smashville” is go­ing some­place the Preda­tors have never been be­fore: The Na­tional Hockey League’s Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

Jo­hansen scored 3:15 into the third, and the Preda­tors ad­vanced to the con­fer­ence fi­nals in their fourth try by beat­ing the St. Louis Blues 3-1 to take the se­ries in six games.

“It’s a big step for the fran­chise,” Preda­tors de­fence­man Ro­man Josi said. “This is such a great city, such a great hockey city, I think peo­ple fi­nally rec­og­nize that. Our fans are un­be­liev­able.”

The Preda­tors won their ninth straight play­off game in Nashville go­ing back to last post-sea­son.

“It’s ob­vi­ously a tough build­ing,” Blues goalie Jake Allen said. “So who­ever they play next is go­ing to have their hands full.”

Goalie Pekka Rinne made 23 saves and had an as­sist. Josi had a goal and an as­sist, and Calle Jarnkrok added an empty-net­ter with 60 sec­onds left.

“Right now, it means ev­ery­thing,” Rinne said. “We haven’t got­ten fur­ther than this be­fore. Ob­vi­ously, it’s a great feel­ing. There’s a lot of work left. Af­ter this sec­ond round, there are only four teams left. We all know that we have what it takes and ev­ery­thing is in our hands. It’s a good feel­ing. This is why you play this game. Right now, I’m pretty happy.”

Nashville will play ei­ther Ana­heim or Ed­mon­ton.

Paul Stastny scored for St. Louis, which fell short of a sec­ond straight con­fer­ence fi­nal.

The Preda­tors and Blues were tied through the first 40 min­utes for a third straight game and fourth over­all in this se­ries when Jo­hansen skated up the slot for a pass from Vik­tor Arvids­son and beat Allen with a back­hand.

Allen kept the Blues close as he had all se­ries, stop­ping Filip Fors­berg on a break­away with 13:31 left. But Jarnkrok scored with a minute to go to clinch it, amp­ing up Nashville’s cel­e­bra­tion.

“We’re half­way there,” Nashville de­fence­man Ryan El­lis said. “We’ve still got a ton of work to do. En­joy it tonight and get ready for the next se­ries.”

This was a painful loss for St. Louis. Allen ranked just be­hind Rinne among stingy goalies this post-sea­son, and the Blues had been the NHL’s best team af­ter coach Mike Yeo re­placed Ken Hitch­cock on Feb. 1. They had been 12-1-1 on the road, in­clud­ing three wins in Min­nesota in tak­ing the first round.

“There were times where we felt like it was winnable, we could’ve come out on the other side,” Yeo said of this se­ries. “They def­i­nitely de­serve to be mov­ing on. But we feel it stinks. I hate to say it. But we’ll learn from this and we’ll find a way to get bet­ter.”

The Blues got back left wing Alexan­der Steen, who missed Fri­day night’s 2-1 win with an in­jury re­vealed to be a bro­ken foot.


Preda­tors cen­tre Ryan Jo­hansen, left, scores the game-win­ning goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen.

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