NASHVILLE, Tenn. • The scoreboard might have looked similar at night’s end, but there was little resemblance between the Blues’ 1-0 shutout Tuesday in Nashville and one Sunday in Detroit.
The Red Wings are battling for a playoff spot and put the Blues and goaltender Brian Elliott to the test. The Predators, on the other hand, are struggling to stay afloat as the season boils down.
Battling for a postseason spot with only 10 regular-season games remaining, the Blues are accepting wins any way they come, as they rattled off their season-high fifth consecutive victory Tuesday. Four of those wins have taken place on the road, including back-to-back shutouts.
“The Detroit game was a little tougher to get the shutout,” said Elliott, who needed only 15 saves to blank the Predators after shutting down Detroit on 28 higher-quality attempts. “It really doesn’t matter, you just always want to beat them by whatever — one.”
Alex Steen’s goal with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left in the second period, his seventh of the season, stood as the game-winner.
The victory kept the Blues on pace with Washington for the NHL’s longest current winning streak, but more satisfying to the club was that with 46 points, the Blues jumped into sixth place in the Western Conference standings. And with losses by Los Angeles and San Jose, they are now just two points out of fourth.
“It’s one game, survive, move on,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose club continues its four-game road trip in Minnesota on Thursday. “Get to the next arena and put on the show again. Five wins in a row, all it does is give us points. I think we’ve got to start looking up rather than look over our shoulders. To me, looking up is more important than anything right now.”
Things weren’t looking up for the Blues until the second period Tuesday.
Nashville entered the game having lost six of its last seven, as the Predators are set to miss the postseason for just the second time in the last nine years. But similar to Sunday in Detroit, the scoreboard was empty until 36 minutes elapsed.
The Blues outshot Nashville 12-0 in one stretch Tuesday, but the visitors couldn’t crack Preds goalie Pekka Rinne.
But two days after Chris Porter snapped a scoreless affair with 3:32 left in the second period against Detroit, propelling the Blues to victory, Steen broke the stalemate Tuesday in Nashville with 3:23 left in the middle stanza.
Finally, Steen fired a shot that Rinne couldn’t keep out, beating the goalie through the legs for a 1-0 lead.
“I was fortunate that it slid in,” said Steen, who snapped a seven-game goal-less streak to give him points in four of his last five games. “I thought we had some really good chances and he made some good saves. At the beginning I thought we were on the outside a little much, but we got in front the longer the game went on. Fortunately today, one was enough.”
The Blues had 26 shots on net Tuesday, and with 25 on Sunday, they have two goals on 51 shots over two games. But again, they’re 2-0.
“I think you go through stages like that,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think we’re doing as much as we can. But continuity-wise we can probably get a little bit better. But I think we’re getting good looks, so hopefully we can keep it up. We’re still not where we want to be.”
Rinne, one of the NHL’s better goalies, fell to 1-4-2 in his last seven games.
“It is always disappointing when I give up a goal like that and we lose a game 1-0,” Rinne said. “But it’s just the way things have been going and it seems like it is hard to change.”
At the other end, Nashville didn’t test Elliott much, managing next to no quality chances. The Predators went without a shot for a stretch of 15:50, overlapping the first and second periods, as the Blues defense continued to clamp down bolstered with the addition of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold.
“The second and third (periods) were really good,” Hitchcock said. “We were a little loose in the first … it was a skating game. I really liked the way we played in the second and third period. I thought we were outstanding.”
In the end, it added up to the 20th career shutout and 11th as a Blue for Elliott, who extended his personal shutout streak to 129 minutes, 31 seconds.
“You want to win and a shutout is definitely icing on the cake,’’ said Elliott, celebrated his 28th birthday by lowering his goals-against average (2.89) and save-percentage (.884).