NASHVILLE — Predators defenceman Ryan Ellis gave goalie Pekka Rinne a hand in the crease with a key save inside the final minute of the second period, then he broke open a scoreless game with a power-play goal.
The St. Louis Blues just don't agree with how Nashville got the man advantage that led to Ellis' goal.
James Neal made sure it didn't matter, scoring the game-winning goal with 6:57 left, as the Predators beat the Blues 2-1 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
"That was by far the hardest game of the series," Ellis said. "I thought they played well at both ends of the ice. I thought we played well too. It was deadlocked at zeroes for most of the game and we just got a couple of bounces."
Rinne outdueled St. Louis' Jake Allen with 32 saves, and the Predators are a victory from reaching the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history.
"Obviously that's something that would be amazing for this organization too," Rinne said. "Now we have a chance to really step on their throats, and we can control our destiny. You couldn't ask for more."
Ellis scored at 5:09 of the third to break up a scoreless game. Neal then scored with 6:57 left to crank up the Nashville celebration as the Predators won their eighth straight playoff game at home.
Joel Edmundson scored with 3:49 left as St. Louis avoided the shutout. Blues coach Mike Yeo pulled Allen late, but they couldn't beat Rinne again. Allen finished with 23 saves as the Blues lost consecutive road games for the first time since Feb. 28 and March 3.
Game 5 is Friday night in St. Louis.
The Predators got the first goal of the game after a scuffle along the boards in front of the Nashville bench put Edmundson and forward Ryan Reaves in the box for roughing along with Predators forward Cody McLeod. The puck bounced around before Ellis scored on a wrister from the edge of the left circle under Allen's head as the goalie went down.
Ellis tied the franchise record with a point in his seventh straight playoff game.
Yeo was upset about the call and said he didn't get an explanation.
"I thought that they did a really good job lobbying for that, and I mean every stoppage they're yelling at the refs," Yeo said of the Predators. "They're talking to the refs, and obviously it worked there. It's worked all series. Let's be honest."
St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo also wasn't happy with the way the officials called the penalties from the scrum.
"It is the first time I see a referee not let the captain talk to them," Pietrangelo said. "I am pretty sure that is what the 'C' is for, so the league can deal with them."
Just after Ellis' goal, Predators defenceman P.K. Subban had his helmet knocked off by Edmundson along the side boards, sending him to the locker room. Subban returned later in the period after being called for embellishment along with Edmundson back in the box for roughing at 5:15 of the third.
"That was a hard-checking have to compete for every inch of ice out there, and I thought our guys did a good job," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
Allen got help from the crossbar on a shot by Neal and Viktor Arvidsson hit a post. Neal finally scored his second this post-season intercepting the puck, spinning and hitting the top corner with a wrister.
That proved to be the game-winning goal after Edmundson scored with a shot from the left circle through two players in front that banked in past Rinne, giving the Blues a chance.
With a late start, the Predators tapped one of their original fans in country star Vince Gill to sing the anthem along with his daughters, and golfer Brandt Snedeker brought the Ryder Cup with him onto the ice before waving a flag to rev up the crowd.
Former Jets and Bills coach Rex Ryan also was in the stands for his second game this series wearing a Predators' sweater.
This was the first game of this series to go scoreless through the first 40 minutes thanks to dazzling saves by both goalies. Rinne looked like the goalie who shut out Chicago twice as Nashville swept the Blackhawks in the first round.
He got that helping hand by Ellis in the final seconds of the second period with the Blues on the power play on a puck that got behind Rinne.
Notes: Ellis' seven-game point streak is the longest by a defenceman in the post-season since Chris Pronger and Jason Woolley in 1998. ... Nashville defencemen have scored a league-leading eight goals this post-season .
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press