NASHVILLE, TENN. • The Blues managed only one goal for the second consecutive game, so they have little to complain about in terms of not winning Game 4 against Nashville on Tuesday. But they weren’t happy with a turn of events that triggered the Predators’ 2-1 victory.
There was extracurricular activity throughout the game between members of the fourth lines, but when it happened with 15 minutes 49 seconds left in regulation, the penalties handed out were not what many except the crowd of 17,273 at Bridgestone Arena might have expected.
The sequence resulted with the Blues’ Joel Edmundson and Ryan Reaves, along with Nashville’s Cody McLeod, being assessed roughing penalties, and on the ensuing power play Ryan Ellis broke open the scoring. The Predators added a goal by James Neal with 6:57 to play, and that stood as the game-winner after Edmundson scored with 3:49 to go.
The game finished close, but the Western Conference semifinal is no longer that, with Nashville's victory building a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series that now heads back to Scottrade Center for Game 5 on Friday.
The Blues know one goal per game won't cut it against the Predators and admitted that a penalty for too many men on the ice on the power play in Game 4 was costly, but they all left Music City singing the same tune about the turning point in Tuesday's game.
"I think it’s a terrible call,” Reaves said. “I disagree with it 100 percent. There’s 10 guys all grabbing one guy and you pick one extra on one team in a crucial part of the game in a big series … I think it’s bad judgment.”
It happened in the third period of a scoreless game that would either swing the series 3-1 or even it at 2-2, and with the Blues' Jake Allen and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne providing the goaltending duel that was expected from the start.
Allen and Rinne were trading saves — including an eye-popping toe save on Neal early in the period — when a scrum in front of the Nashville bench began to brew. It began with Edmundson and McLeod jousting, which led to Reaves locking up McLeod.
"I'm going to come in and grab the toughest guy in the scrum," Reaves said. "That's what I've done my whole career."
All 10 skaters on the ice were engaged, as linesmen Derek Amell and Bryan Pancich jumped in and referees Dan O'Rourke and Jean Hebert observed. Reaves said he was originally told by officials that he and McLeod were each receiving 12 minutes of penalties, including a 10-minute misconduct, but that "got erased" without an explanation and all three players were given minors.
"The way the game was going," Blues coach Mike Yeo said, "it was a rough game, and if you want to send a message like that, that it's going to be one guy, I think that there was many opportunities in the game. I don't know why that was all of the sudden chosen."
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo tried to get an explanation on why there was an extra penalty assessed to his team and was perturbed that he couldn't.
“First time I’ve ever seen the ref not let the captain even talk to him,” Pietrangelo said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what the C’s for. The league can deal with him.”
Kay Whitmore, the league supervisor for the series, declined to comment, calling it a judgment call.
All the Blues could do at the time was kill the penalty and they didn't. Fifty-eight seconds into Nashville's man-advantage, Ellis broke open the game with the game’s first goal, pouncing on a loose puck in front of the net and scoring for the third time in the series.
The Blues would have a chance to catch the Predators, receiving a power play of their own with 10:35 left in regulation, but nullified that by taking the penalty for too many men on the ice.
"That was not good on our part," Yeo said. "We get down and it was obviously frustrating to be down the way we were competing ... the way that we went down with the penalty call and it took us a while to regroup after that."
The Blues dropped to just two for 24 on the power play in the postseason, and moments later David Perron turned a puck over to Neal, who roofed a shot past goalie Allen for a 2-0 lead with 6:57 remaining in regulation. Edmundson’s third goal of the postseason allowed the club to avoid its second shutout of the playoffs, but it only added insult for a team still steaming about the earlier controversial call.
Yeo took it a step further afterward.
"I'll be the first to admit I know that we could have killed the penalty, but I thought that they did a really good job lobbying for that," he said. "Every stoppage, they're yelling at the refs, talking to the refs and it worked there. It's worked all series, let's be honest. We had one game where we've had more power plays than them and the other three, they're winning that category, clearly."
But the only category that matters now is the win column, and Nashville leads that 3-1. The Blues liked a lot of what transpired Tuesday but know they're in a tough spot.
"We're obviously in a little bit of a hole, but we're definitely not out of it," Reaves said. "We've got to win three in a row, which we've done throughout the season. It's not impossible but we've got to buckle down."