The St. Louis Blues were in survival mode Friday night.
They were on home ice. They were trying to prevent losing to the 8-seed Predators, a team that was leading 3-1 in the best-of-seven games in a Western Conference playoff series.
The Blues took the fight to the Predators, going ahead 2-1 early in the third period on a goal by winger Jaden Schwartz. It held up as the Predators had chances, but couldn’t cash in.
The Blues travel back to Smashville for a Sunday afternoon showdown.
The Blues came into Game 5 on a mission. They were fore-checking early and often. They were flying to the puck. It was the most physical game they had played in the series and the Predators could not overcome.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was under fire all night. The third period was chaotic. Both teams waged an up and down the ice brass knuckles battle.
The Predators were determined to end the series Friday night. The Blues were just as determined to continue the series and push it to a Game 6.
Blues Coach Mike Yeo had his team on Code Red, or Code Blue in this case. They were quicker to the puck. After the scoreless first period Predators Coach Peter Laviolette admitted as much during intermission.
“They are playing quicker than we are,’’ Laviolette said.
Rinne had nine saves during the first period, but it was clear the Blues were going to smother Rinne all night.
The Predators scored their lone goal of the game in the second period. The Predators took advantage of a 5-on-3 edge and scored on James Neal’s goal, his third in the series. It tied the game at 1-1.
The Blues lost two players to the penalty box, one for holding, the second for tripping.
The Blues had drawn first blood on a rebound goal by Dmitrij Jaskin after 5:33 had elapsed in the second period.
It will be interesting to see how the Predators respond to the loss. Playing on friendly ice Sunday should give them an advantage, as you can bet the fans will be in full throat for the 2 p.m. game that could see them finish off the Blues with a win.
“We all agree we could play better,’’ Rinne said after the Game 5 loss. “They have some life now and the (Sunday) game will be fun.’’
Give the Blues credit for taking Game 5. The Predators have played with confidence up to this point in the playoffs.
There is no sign that Game 6 will not have the Predators’ full attention. They are playing to be the first Predators team to win the first two series and play for a Western Conference title.
The Blues will not roll over.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.