NHL Playoffs: Predators edge Blues 2-1, take 3-1 series lead

Nashville Predators left wing Harry Zolnierczyk (26) falls as he tries to shoot against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) during the second period in Game 4 of a second-round NHL hockey playoff series, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Nashville Predators left wing Harry Zolnierczyk (26) falls as he tries to shoot against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) during the second period in Game 4 of a second-round NHL hockey playoff series, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James Neal scored the game-winning goal with 6:57 left, and the Nashville Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.

Pekka Rinne outdueled St. Louis’ Jake Allen with 32 saves, and the Predators are a victory away from reaching the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history.

Ryan 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.

Just after Ellis’ goal, Predators defenseman 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.

Allen got help from the crossbar on a shot by Neal and Viktor Arvidsson hit a post. Neal finally scored his second this postseason 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 opened the game easily gloving a shot by Vladimir Sobotka and looked like the goalie who shut out Chicago twice as Nashville swept the Blackhawks in the first round. He got what appeared to be a helping hand by Ellis in the final seconds of the second period with the Blues on the power play. Ellis blocked a shot from Jaden Schwartz, then Rinne made saves on Alex Pietrangelo and Schwartz in a flurry inside the crease.

RANGERS 4, SENATORS 1

NEW YORK — Mats Zuccarello got the New York Rangers off to a fast start and they cruised to a crucial win against the Ottawa Senators.

Zuccarello had a goal and an assist in the first period and the Rangers went on to a 4-1 victory Tuesday night that cut the Senators’ lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Oscar Lindberg also scored, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots. Looking to avoid falling into a 0-3 series hole and with the home crowd buzzing from the singing of the national anthems, the Rangers came out aggressive from the start. They outshot the Senators 15-5 in the first period while building a 2-0 lead.

“We played a solid first period and we came out strong,” Zuccarello said. “I think that we set the tone right away.”

The Rangers have won three straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden after losing six straight on home ice, including Game 3 of the first round against Montreal.

“There’s no doubt we played a strong game,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were able to score a couple, get early pace and we were able to bring it home and win the game.”

Zuccarello got the crowd fired up when he got the Rangers on the scoreboard 5:31 into the game. Mika Zibanejad brought the puck up the right side, came around the back of the Ottawa net while fighting off a defender and sent a pass in front to Zuccarello, who fired it past goalie Craig Anderson for his 11th career playoff goal.

Grabner made it 2-0 with 6:36 left in the opening period. Zuccarello sent the puck along the boards on the left side behind the Ottawa net and Grabner beat Anderson and defenseman Ben Harpur to get it. He then came out and put in a wraparound before Anderson could recover.

“I was just trying to get it deep,” Zuccarello said. “It was a lucky play and a good job by him, reading it and stealing the puck there.”

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had four goals in Ottawa’s 6-5 double-overtime win in Game 2, scored again for the Senators, and Anderson finished with 26 saves.

“The game was lost in the first period,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “They were ready, they were hungry, they were desperate and we didn’t match that at all, that’s it.”

Game 4 is Thursday night.