NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Nashville Predators want everything clicking when they hit the playoffs.
Ending a scoring drought on their own ice is a good - and big - start.
Steve Sullivan scored the go-ahead goal at 6:05 of the third period, and the Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Thursday night to move within a point of clinching a playoff berth. The Predators trailed 0-2 in the second before breaking a home-scoring drought that had stretched over more than eight periods.
"We're not looking at it saying, `You need so many points to get in, let's just get to it,"' Sullivan said. "We want to make sure we're playing the best hockey going into the playoffs. If we're just trying to sneak in, it'll be a quick first-round exit, and that's not what we want."
Dustin Boyd and Colin Wilson scored in the second period, and Patric Hornqvist had three assists to become the first of the Predators to 50 points this season. Goalie Pekka Rinne sealed the win by stopping Blues left wing David Perron on a breakaway attempt in the final minute.
Hornqvist got his third assist by flipping the puck down the ice. He said he was tired and trying to clear the puck. Sullivan tracked it down. He wristed the puck between former teammate Chris Mason's outstretched glove and the post to put Nashville ahead with his 16th goal this season.
Sullivan called it a lucky bounce of the puck that resulted in his breakaway goal.
"It was probably beneficial to me since Mase didn't have a chance to get set and read what I was going to do because it took me so long to get control," Sullivan said.
Alexander Steen scored a power-play goal, and Andy McDonald had a goal for St. Louis, which snapped a three-game winning streak.
"We pretty much needed to win out," Blues forward David Backes said. "It's not entirely over, but it made our road just that much harder. We still have five games to play ... we will hopefully win all five and get out 10 points and with help from other teams have a shot."
The Blues came in hoping to play their way into the postseason just as they did a year ago in finishing 7-1-1.
But Nashville is trying to clinch its fifth playoff berth in six seasons and can do it if Calgary loses Friday at Colorado or the Predators win Saturday in Detroit.
The Predators lead the season series 4-1 after becoming the first team to win on home ice this season and finding the net for the first time since the second period of a 4-3 overtime win over Phoenix on March 25. That span had reached 191 minutes, 44 seconds - before Boyd tipped in a shot from Cody Franson with 11:12 gone in the second to pull Nashville within 2-1.
The goal was reviewed before being ruled good, a move that prompted boos from fans upset that the Blues' first goal wasn't reviewed despite Backes falling backward into Rinne.
Still, the Blues appeared headed to the locker room for the second intermission with the lead.
Then Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis started the puck toward the neutral zone. Hornqvist fought with Blues defenseman Erik Johnson for control of the puck and had spun around near the crease looking for it when Wilson, trailing the play, picked it up and put a backhander past Mason with 3.5 seconds left to tie it at 2.
"That had to hurt them," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "It gave us a boost."
St. Louis outshot Nashville 7-1 early and went up 1-0 on a goal that had Trotz yelling at officials. Steen scored on a slap shot from the slot near the blue line, a goal that counted even though Rinne was being knocked down by Backes with 7:13 gone in the first.
"Right now I'm happy we won the game, and it's no big deal. If the game (was) the other way around, I would be pretty mad to be honest," Rinne said.
Mason wasn't happy either, not after 29 saves.
"I'm definitely not going to single anyone out, but some guys showed up and worked as hard as they could, some guys didn't," he said. "When you're in a desperate situation like we are, we need everybody to come and compete. We didn't have that tonight."
NOTES: After going 9-0-1 in one-goal games during March, Nashville is 1-0 in such games in April. ... The Predators had country star Wynonna singing with the band during the first intermission. She sang one of her hits, "No One Else on Earth," and "Freebird." ... Hornqvist has 12 points in his last 13 games for Nashville and now has a career-high 51 points this season. ... Sullivan's goal was the 255th of his career. ... The Predators improved to 18-23-5 when the opponent scores first and 17-7-5 when tied after two periods. ... St. Louis is 24-16-6 when scoring first. ... Nashville improved to 26-6-3 against St. Louis since the start of the 2005-06 season. These teams conclude the regular season here on April 10.
Head Coach Barry Trotz
On scoring goals…
You look at two things: we stayed on the net and battled – we were relentless on pucks.
A good example was the goals – the first one, Boyd’s right at the net, we threw a puck there and it gets redirected in; the second one – which was a huge goal really late in the period – most guys, they go down the ice just go, “Well, I’ll just wait for the next period.” Hornqvist went down and was battling, kept whacking at the puck, Wilson came in behind him and found the loose puck and scored a huge goal. That one had to hurt them, I know it did. It gave us a boost. Then Sully [Steve Sullivan] got a “Sully” goal. There was a loose puck, he stayed with it, went to the net and put it in on Mason. Those were really huge.
I thought we stayed relentless. A good example was that second goal. That’s any easy play to just say, “Hey, we’ll go into the next period and be down 2-1.” But we stayed on it. To me, that’s great, especially two young guys like Hornqvist and Wilson; a little bit of our future, and Sully, our present and a little bit of our past. We need contributions right through the lineup.
On generating offense…
The teams that score goals have a really strong middle-lane drive. It opens up different avenues to get the puck to. Worst-case scenario you throw it at the net. If the goaltender is not firm on the puck you’re going to get a rebound or draw a penalty. A lot of good things happen from that.
On the controversial goal by St. Louis…
[The referee] said that the goal went in before there was contact. I’ll have to look at it again, but that was the explanation. We talked before the game that we want to play playoff hockey right down to the end. That prepares us for the playoffs. We weren’t as engaged as we needed to be – we’ve had two slow starts in the past couple of days, or actually three if I go back to the Florida game – and we talked about if you’re going to play playoff hockey, the involvement and the intensity have to be there. Commitment has to be there, and emotion has to be there. Not until they scored their first goal did we get emotional. Then we really engaged. I thought that from that point on we were pretty good. Even when they scored the second goal, we didn’t back off. We got stronger.
On the physical nature of the game…
They came out with purpose and they came out with a real physical mindset. You look at young Wilson, who scored a big goal, got into a big fight – first NHL fight. Wade Belak took on a big guy in King. How many scrums did you see out there? It was a physical, physical, hard game. That’s what you want to play. With those ones, you come out and you might have a couple bumps and bruises, but I think it’s a little more fulfilling than a really light game.
Forward Colin Wilson
On his fight during the first period giving him momentum for his goal…
I was pretty mad after. There were a lot of tempers flying out there so I think the fight just resulted from it.
On Hornqvist giving him a great opportunity to score the tying goal…
Definitely; that was all him, pushing the two defenseman back. It was a bouncing puck and he kept bringing it back from the defensemen’s skates and I got a really nice bounce and went with my backhand.
Forward Patric Hornqvist
On getting the puck to Colin Wilson to score the game-tying goal in the second…
I just really tried to get the puck and get it to Colin and he did a great job and it was a huge goal for us. He played really well, like I said. We took the emotion back there. It was a really important goal for us.
On battling hard in front of the net against the Blues…
They should be like that every night. It was great battling in front of the net and it was a tough game. It was a great battle and a great game out there.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne
On the overall play of the game tonight…
It was a tough game. At the beginning they came really hard, even though I thought we responded really well. Mason was ready to go and he made some huge saves for them. Obviously after that second goal, that 2-0 goal, we woke up and we started battling a little harder. We got the results that we wanted.
On making a huge save to keep the score 3-2 at the end of the third period…
The guys were really tired. They were on the ice for at least a minute and a half and fighting for every single puck. He [David Perron] was a little fresher and he was able to get that half-breakaway and fortunately I made that save. At the moment it was pretty big.
Forward Steve Sullivan
On the game-winning goal he scored in the third period…
I got a good look at [the puck] right off the glass, it was right off Hornqvist’s stick so it was perfect how it just stayed ahead of me in the air and it just bounced and I was able to tip it by him and he got a piece of it and it luckily went off my skate and onto my stick, so it was really just a bouncing puck and a lucky set of events that led me to a breakaway.
On being ready to wrap up the regular season and head into the playoffs…
I think that with this club right now, it’s been awhile now where we’ve just been worrying about our own game. Worry about getting our game going and getting into the playoffs. We’re not worried about how many points that we need to get in and that we need to just get to that. We want to make sure that we are playing the best hockey going into the playoffs. If we are just trying to sneak in, it will be a quick first round exit and that’s not what we want.