Nashville Predators overcome slow start, stymie St. Louis Blues to reach first conference final in team history

NASHVILLE — Ryan Johansen scored the game-winning goal 3:15 into the third period, and the Nashville Predators advanced to their first Western Conference final in franchise history Sunday by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 to take the series in six games.

The Predators won their ninth straight playoff game in Nashville, going back to the 2016 post-season.

Goalie Pekka Rinne made 23 saves and had an assist. Roman Josi had a goal and an assist, and Calle Jarnkrok added an empty-netter with 60 seconds left.

Nashville will play either Anaheim or Edmonton.

Paul Stastny scored for St. Louis, which fell short of a second straight conference final.

The Predators and Blues were tied through the first 40 minutes for a third straight game and fourth overall in this series when Johansen skated up the slot for a pass from Viktor Arvidsson and beat Jake Allen with a backhand.

Allen kept the Blues close as he had all series, stopping Filip Forsberg on a breakaway with 13:31 left. But Jarnkrok scored with a minute to go to clinch it, amping up Nashville’s celebration.

The Predators got forward Craig Smith back for the first time in this series after he was hurt in Game 3 against Chicago in the first round. And the Blues got back left wing Alexander Steen, who missed Friday night’s 2-1 win with an injury.

Nashville had Grammy winners Lady Antebellum sing the national anthem, and forward Kevin Fiala, who broke his left leg in Game 1, wave the towel to rev up the fans who were ready for the puck to drop.

The Predators weren’t. St. Louis took the first seven shots and went up 1-0 on Stastny’s goal, a wrister just 2:04 into the game off assists from Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.

Tarasenko’s shot from the right circle hit off Rinne, then Stastny, who knocked the puck in for the goal.It was the first even-strength goal the Predators had allowed in the first period this post-season.

The Blues even took the first two penalties of the game, and Nashville couldn’t take advantage of the man advantage with sloppy puck-handling and too many turnovers.

But the Predators needed only 35 seconds into the second to tie it up. Mattias Ekholm found Josi all alone in the right circle for a quick shot past Allen’s glove. That gave Nashville defencemen nine goals this post-season, a franchise record.

Johansen, Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg came into this game having combined for only three points in this series after getting 15 in sweeping Chicago. Johansen had an assist on Josi’s goal, then scored his first goal of the series and second this post-season, with Arvidsson getting his first point against St. Louis on the primary assist.