Predators hope to shake off late-season rut vs. Blues

A three-game skid has turned the Nashville Predators into potential prey.

As the Predators prepare to host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, it is with an opportunity to make a statement about how difficult they will be to catch.

The Predators (43-28-4, 90 points) hold the Western Conference’s top wild-card spot and have a six-point edge on the Blues (40-31-4, 84 points), with the Los Angeles Kings in between the teams. Nashville and St. Louis have seven games remaining in the regular season, making this an important contest.

The key for Nashville will be to turn its suddenly changed fortunes. A 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday has the Predators losers of three consecutive outings since their 16-0-2 run, which began with a 5-2 victory over the Blues on Feb. 17.

Even in defeat, though, the Predators saw positive signs after their two earlier losses in which they surrendered a combined 15 goals.

“The way we played (Tuesday) was more our style,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. “That’s a really good team. … One of the best teams in the league, and they played really hard (Tuesday), they played really good. And I thought five-on-five we had our looks, they had their looks and it was a pretty even game. So, we’re not going to get too low.”

Being in the driver’s seat during the playoff push helps, and so would embracing the situation, according to one of the team’s leaders.

“It’s a good time to have adversity going into playoffs and to earn that playoff spot,” Predators forward Ryan O’Reilly said. “I think it’s something that we have to lean into or be excited for. We’re disappointed that we’ve lost these last few, but there’s a great opportunity here to really rally together and start to make our push.”

The Blues have a push of their own to provide. St. Louis kept its tenuous playoff hopes alive with a roller coaster of a 3-2 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday to end a four-game homestand. The Blues trailed 1-0 after the first period, grabbed a 2-1 edge in the third and surrendered a late goal, but Brandon Saad came through with the game-winner.

The Blues have an impressive 8-2-1 record in their past 11 games but were coming off a disappointing 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks and needed a bounce-back performance.

“Definitely a good response, right, going up against a good team there,” St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington said. “I think we’ve been playing pretty good hockey as of late. Obviously that last game was frustrating. We know that and it was a good response by the group.”

Facing a Nashville team that has won the past three meetings between the Central Division rivals, the Blues kick off a three-game road trip with something positive to build upon.

“Quite frankly, when we’ve played a poor game, we responded pretty well in that instance (all season), so I’m not surprised by the response,” St. Louis interim coach Drew Bannister said. “I thought we worked to get that game.”

The Blues, who are 17-18-2 away from home, will also face the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks on the trip.

–Field Level Media