|West-leading Predators host challenging Blues|
Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators worked overtime to come home from Montreal with first place in the Central Division in their mitts.
Rinne's 47 saves Saturday night, including 10 in overtime, enabled Nashville to steal two points in La Belle Province with a 3-2 shootout win. At 33-12-9, the Predators have 75 points and games in hand on second-place Winnipeg and third-place St. Louis.
A chance to create further separation from St. Louis happens Tuesday night when Nashville opens a four-game homestand in Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators went 2-0-2 on an Eastern Conference road swing, with every game going into overtime or a shootout.
The trip's finale had all the earmarks of a defeat, except Rinne came up with a spate of huge saves in OT to extend the game into the shootout, where his three saves and Ryan Ellis' first-round goal decided the issue.
"He gave us an opportunity to leave the building with the points," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "We need to play a lot better in front of him ... he was outstanding. He was incredible tonight."
Based on last spring's Western Conference semifinals, as well as the Predators' two wins this season against St. Louis, there's no reason to expect Rinne to be any less incredible in this showdown.
Rinne (28-8-4, 2.30, .927) has ceded just one goal to the Blues in 2-0 and 2-1 victories during the 2017 portion of the season.
In Nashville's 4-2 series victory over St. Louis last year, Rinne permitted only 11 goals.
"He was there all night long, making these post-to-post cross-ice saves," Predators center Ryan Johansen said of Rinne after the win in Montreal. "He was phenomenal. Hats off to him tonight."
Not only are the Predators two points clear of the Jets and four ahead of the Blues, they also have played two fewer games than Winnipeg and four less than St. Louis (34-21-3). They also have a game in hand on Vegas, which is a point ahead of them for the conference's best record.
That makes this game even more critical for the Blues, who come into town off a frustrating 4-1 loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
St. Louis appeared to take a 2-1 lead early in the third period, but Paul Stastny's tip-in was overturned by the Situation Room when they ruled he played it with a high stick. The Penguins scored 34 seconds later and never looked back.
"It wasn't our worst game we played," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I thought we battled hard. It's 1-1 until obviously the third and a couple of mistakes. You've got to find a way to win a hockey game. But if you look at the overall effort, it was there."
St. Louis outshot Pittsburgh 34-23 but appeared to wear down in the third period as it played its third game in four days. The Blues held an optional practice Monday that most of their top players skipped.
Either Jake Allen (19-16-2, 2.74 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) or former Nashville backup Carter Hutton (15-5-1, 1.70, .944), who has played the best hockey of his career this season, will start in the net for St. Louis.