The St. Louis Blues were written off a month ago, fairly viewed as sellers instead of buyers as the NHL's trade deadline loomed, but plenty has changed with interim coach Craig Berube's club since then.
St. Louis (26-22-5, 57 points) completes a back-to-back, home-and-home set when it travels to Nashville to face the Predators at Bridgestone Arena Sunday afternoon. The game will be the fourth of five meetings between the teams this year, with St. Louis having won two of the first three.
The Blues jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Saturday and held on for a 3-2 win. St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington continued to sizzle, making 29 saves to increase his mark to 9-1-1 in his first 11 NHL starts.
Suddenly, the Blues have found themselves in a favorable position, vaulting from the middle of the pack of teams outside of a playoff into the second wild-card spot as Saturday's games began. Berube's bunch moved two points ahead of Vancouver with two games in hand over the Canucks after the win.
A successful 16-game run to open 2019 has triggered the Blues and moved them from pretender to contender.
St. Louis defeated the Washington Capitals 5-2 on Jan. 3. The win over the defending Stanley Cup champions sparked an 11-4-1 run that lifted St. Louis from last place in the Central Division and 10 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference to holding the last playoff position after Saturday's win.
Forward Brayden Schenn scored the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, taking a long feed from defenseman Colton Parayko and sending in his 10th goal as St. Louis swept both road tilts in Florida.
In an uphill battle against the Panthers two nights earlier, the Blues erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to beat Florida 3-2 before preparing for the Lightning.
Parayko expected the weekend series with Nashville to be no different -- tough, heavy games with major implications in the postseason.
"I think they're going to be like playoff games. That's where we're at for the season for both of us," Parayko said. "That creates a good matchup."
Saturday's loss left the Predators (33-20-4, 70 points) in second place in the Central Division, trailing Winnipeg by one point in the standings, and the club has still won five of its last seven games. The Jets lost 5-2 in Ottawa.
Nashville's goaltending and defense entered Saturday's game having allowed just 10 goals in the previous six games, but Vince Dunn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Mackenzie MacEachern all tallied for St. Louis.
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm cut the deficit to 2-1, and Predators top-line center Ryan Johansen scored with 1:15 left in the game after MacEachern's goal. However, Binnington and the Blues held on for their season-high fifth straight win.
"The first 40 minutes were just not good enough, especially the way the Blues have been playing," Johansen told The Tennessean after the loss. "We knew we were going to be chasing the game.
"The good thing is we're right back at it tomorrow against the same team, and the work we brought in the third is what we need tomorrow for the whole game."
--Field Level Media