By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — No goaltender has played better this postseason than Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, though Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues came closest in the first round.
Now their teammates have to figure out how to score on these two stingy goalies if they want to advance to the Western Conference finals.
“We have to try to solve Jake Allen and make life difficult for him,” Rinne said . “It comes down to me trying to maintain and try to be at my best. At the same time, of course, you’re going to look at the other side of the rink and the guy who you play against, you try to outplay him.”
Rinne allowed only three goals on 126 shots faced in helping Nashville to its first postseason sweep in franchise history. He shut out top-seeded Chicago twice on the Blackhawks’ own ice, becoming just the fourth goalie to win four postseason games with a goals-against average of 0.70 or less.
When the Blues open their conference semifinal Wednesday night in St. Louis, they hope to take advantage of some inside information to solve Rinne. Carter Hutton backed up Rinne the past three seasons in Nashville, and the two remain close friends. That friendship is about to take a timeout for the duration of this series.
“He’s one of those guys that he’s a streaky goalie at the same time, so I think we have to do a good job of getting traffic and getting in there,” Hutton said. “But it’s going to be a battle of the goalies. We’ve got two of the best going at it here.”
Allen ranks just behind Rinne this postseason with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in leading the Blues over Minnesota in five games in the first round.
“He’s been our playoff MVP so far,” Hutton said of Allen.
Some things to know about this series:
FIRST TIME IN POSTSEASON
These Central Division rivals know each other well with Nashville winning the regular-season series 3-2. This is the first time they have met in the postseason. The Blues are trying to get back to the conference finals after losing to San Jose in six games a year ago, while this is the second consecutive second round for Nashville and fourth in its short history. The Predators got the most of their postseason a year ago, going a full 14 games before losing to San Jose in the second round.
“Now here we sit, we’re one of eight teams that has a chance to reach the Stanley Cup and to win the Stanley Cup,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “So we’re pretty excited about that opportunity.”
Nashville’s top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson combined for 15 points in the first round. The trio also leads the league in plus-minus rating this postseason.
“It’s a group that has a ton of confidence,” Yeo said. “They are very motivated right now, and you can see it in their game, that every guy is going out there and playing his role well.”
Since Yeo was hired Feb. 1, the Blues have gone 17-4-1 on the road and have won nine of their last 10 counting three wins in upsetting Minnesota 4-1 in their first-round series. St. Louis lost twice in Nashville in games played before Yeo took over.
TIME TO SCORE
Four different Predators scored game-winning goals against Chicago, a sign of the depth that featured 12 different players scoring at least 10 goals during the regular season. That tied for the league lead. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who tied for fourth in the NHL with 39 goals, had only one goal in the first round.
The Blues got center Paul Stastny back from a lower-body injury suffered March 21 for their fifth game against Minnesota. The Predators also expect to have forward Colin Wilson back and are hoping for the man known as “Playoff Colin Wilson” this time of year. Wilson, who missed the first-round series with a lower-body injury, has 20 points in 33 career playoff games. He was at his best last year leading Nashville with 13 points in 14 games.
AP freelance writer Nate Latsch contributed to this report.
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