NASHVILLE, TENN. • If someone had told the Blues that a transition season that also saw a coaching change and the trade of a top defenseman would last until Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, they probably would have taken it.
But when the postseason arrived at that dead end Sunday at Bridgestone Arena, where Nashville won 3-1 to claim the best-of-seven series 4-2, the Blues were still left with regrets.
They couldn’t find a way to win any of their three games in Nashville, they were held to just three goals on the road and the power play was abysmal both home and away.
Those were some of the reasons that in a series the team labeled as “winnable,” the Predators were able to punch their ticket to the conference finals for the first time in their history, denying the Blues a second straight trip to the third round.
“First off a lot of credit to Nashville, congratulations to them, they played a great series and they’re a real strong team, but it hurts right now for us,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We felt like there were moments in this series where we could have grabbed it. There was times where we felt like it was winnable, like we could have come out on the other side. They definitely deserve to be moving on, but ... it stinks, I hate it, I hate to say it.”
That was the feeling in the Blues’ locker room after a postseason that saw them take out Minnesota in five games in the first round and nearly push Nashville to a decisive Game 7.
“We didn’t advance far enough — disappointed,” Blues goalie Jake Allen said. “We had an opportunity this year that not many people thought we’d even get to the playoffs or win a round. But I feel like we could have easily went to the next round. It’s frustrating that way.”
The Blues trailed 3-1 in the series, but it began to look promising again with a 2-1 win in Game 5 on Friday, followed by the Blues scoring just 2 minutes, 4 seconds into Game 6 on Sunday.
Paul Stastny scored his second goal of the postseason, knocking in a rebound after a shot from Vladimir Tarasenko.
It was the first even-strength goal scored against Nashville in the first period in the playoffs, and it gave the Blues the lead at the intermission for the first time in the series.
“Definitely a great start, but they really started to push back,” Yeo said. “We went to the penalty box a little bit too much there early and it took a little bit of momentum away from us.”
The Predators, though, got the goal back in the second period and from a familiar source — their defense. Roman Josi’s fourth goal of the playoffs came 35 seconds into the second period on a bad sequence for the Blues.
They didn’t pick up Nashville’s rush properly and it ended with Mattias Ekholm firing a perfect pass to Josi, who didn’t have a defender near him.
“That was a nice play by them, but we battled back and we got out of the period 1-1,” Allen said.
It was no surprise that the teams were tied heading into the third period; that was the case for the third straight game Sunday and for the fourth time in the series. But it didn’t take long for the Predators to grab the lead, and the man who provided it for them should have come as no surprise, either.
The top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arviddson and Filip Forsberg had five goals and 15 points in Nashville’s first-round sweep of Chicago but had been held to just one goal before Sunday.
But 3:14 into the period, the Blues got a little too aggressive. Defenseman Colton Parayko joined an offensive rush and after a turnover, the Predators came back flying into the offensive zone.
Arvidsson’s first point of the series was a pinpoint pass to Johansen, who went forehand-backhand to beat Allen for a 2-1 lead.
“I was pinching and the puck chipped out and they went down on a break,” Parayko said.
“It was still right there for us all game long and then obviously a couple of mistakes that we made end up in the back of the net and we couldn’t find a way,” Yeo added. “Certainly after they scored that second goal, we got away from the things that we were doing as far as protecting ourselves and obviously giving up breakaways and two-on-ones is not a good formula.”
Allen was pulled with 1:20 left in regulation for an extra attacker and Calle Jarnkrok answered with an empty-netter.
So it was essentially a one-goal game, meaning five of the six in the series were decided by that margin. The Predators outscored the Blues 15-11 in the series, and one of those Predators goals was the empty-netter.
“I think early on the first couple games, we started out well,” Stastny said. “But every time we got scored on, to take a boxing analogy, we took a punch and then we kind of took too long to feel our way out, instead of getting right back out and being aggressive again. It wasn’t until Game 4 we started trying to dictate play and know we could weather storms, and it was too little, too late.”
“You’re not doing yourself any favors getting down 3-1,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo added. “Doesn’t take anything away about how I feel about this group. I feel proud to represent this group. We fell short, but the fight was always there. We fought until the end. Sure, we could have played better in the first couple games, but never have I not been proud of this group.”