NASHVILLE, TENN. • Going into their series with the Predators, the Blues knew Nashville’s offensively inclined defensemen were going to be a problem, and that’s exactly what they’ve been in the first three games of the series.
The Predators got two of their three goals from defensemen Sunday, one from Ryan Ellis that gave them a 1-0 lead and then a backbreaker from Roman Josi at the end of a marathon shift that clinched it with 5:49 to go in a 3-1 win over the Blues that put the Predators up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s going to be a topic for conversation,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.
The Predators’ “D” already is a topic because they are shaping this postseason for the team. The team’s defensemen have been involved in 12 of the team’s past 13 goals (including all three Sunday) and on 16 of the team’s 22 so far in the playoffs. In the playoffs, they have seven goals and 14 assists, and that comes on the heels of the team leading the NHL in defenseman points in the regular season with 181. They were second in goals by defensemen with 45.
“We just go out and do our part,” said Ellis, who has three goals in the postseason, the most of any defenseman, including two in this series. “We’ve said it all year: We just go out and try to help our forwards and contribute when we can. … It’s about attacking as a group of five and everyone wanting it and tonight I think you saw that.”
On Sunday, the Predators didn’t even need much from P.K. Subban, who dominated Game 1 with a goal and two assists. But that’s the beauty of the Predators’ blue line, that there are so many guys who can do it. In the regular season, Ellis had 16 goals, Josi had 12 and Subban had 10.
“They know that they need their defensemen being part of the attack,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “Obviously they got a good group of defensemen over there. That’s going to be a challenge. We knew that was a challenge right from the start walking into this series. We’ve seen that and that’s obviously an area we have to be better at.”
Both Ellis’ and Josi’s goals benefitted from traffic in front of the net that limited goalie Jake Allen’s vision. On Ellis’ goal, Filip Forsberg skated the puck toward the net and slipped a pass in the high slot to Ellis, who one-timed it past a screen by Colin Wilson. On Josi’s goal, with a Blues defense on the ice for almost two minutes, Josi unleashed a shot from the blue line through a weary Blues defense, and it was left winger Harry Zolnierczyk providing what Predators coach Peter Laviolette called an “unbelievable screen.”
“It’s about everyone getting up the ice and trying to get an odd-man rush,” Ellis said. “We rely on everyone to contribute, and tonight you kind of saw everyone do that.”
“I think it’s not just the defense, it’s the forwards, too,” Josi said. “It’s part of our system. Our forwards are doing a great job of getting pucks to us and finding the open guy. Our job is to get it to the net and get as many shots as we can. I think for us defensemen, we have a lot of guys who can skate, so it’s definitely part of our system to join the play and make something happen.
“We move as a five-man unit. I think early in the regular season, guys didn’t know where to go. Now, everything is a five-man unit. We go to the offense with five guys, we defend hard with five guys.”
“I think all those guys are all-around defensemen,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Really mobile. They have asked to be involved in the offense, and the defense, obviously, being defensemen. They do a great job, they block shots, they have good sticks and they all skate really well. I always say that our defense is our backbone. It’s no secret. We use our defensemen a lot and they create our offense a lot.”
The defense being played by Nashville has been pretty good, too, as they held the Blues to just one goal. They’re proving to be the 200 feet of aggravation the Blues expected.
“We’ve got to get into shot lanes,” Pietrangelo said. “They’re getting some clean looks. I think we’ve got to be more aggressive in our end so they don’t have the opportunity to move it as quickly as they do.”