NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a scoreless playoff game, a game Blues center Paul Stastny called "kind of an old-school playoff game," the Blues and Nashville Predators had the battle lines drawn during Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series.
But then in the third period, things got testy near the Nashville bench. It started with the Blues' Joel Edmundson and the Predators' Cody McLeod tussling. Players converged, all 10 of them, and Ryan Reaves grabs McLeod, who had been goading Reaves the entire game but would never drop his gloves. When the scrum was done and it was time to resume play, the Blues had Edmundson and Reaves in the box, McLeod was in the box for Nashville, meaning the Predators -- out of a 10-man scrum where everyone was involved -- were on the power play.
Nashville scored on the ensuing power play, changed the complexion of the game, and the Blues in the end fell 2-1 in Game 4 Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena and trail the best-of-7 series 3-1.
By Lou Korac. Get the latest Blues News from St. Louis' NHL.com beat writer.
How did this happen? Well, nobody will ever know, because Kay Whitmore, the supervisor of officials for this series, declined to comment, only saying that it was a "judgment call."
Dan O'Rourke and Jean Hebert were the two on-ice officials, and Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo was waiting for an explanation from O'Rourke but would not get one.
"I don't want to get into the refs, but it's the first time I've ever seen a ref not let the captain even talk to him," Pietrangelo said. 'I'm pretty sure that's what the C's for. The league can deal with them."
The Blues were irate afterwards, because for the fourth straight game, they allowed the first goal, and in a game in which they outshot Nashville 33-25 but couldn't solve Pekka Rinne until Edmundson scored with 3 minutes, 49 seconds remaining, they now have their backs against the wall.
Coach Mike Yeo was not given an explanation either.
"I'm more upset about the call," Yeo said. "I'll be the first to admit I know that we could have killed the penalty, but I thought that they did a really good job lobbying for that. Every stoppage, they're yelling at the refs, talking to the refs and it worked there. It's worked all series, let's be honest. Game 1 ... we had one game where we've had more power plays than them and the other three, they're winning that category, clearly.
"... The way the game was going, it was a rough game, and if you want to send a message like that, that it's going to be one guy, I think that there was many opportunities in the game. I don't know why that was all of the sudden chosen. I'm not sure. But I'm not going to make excuses. We could have killed the power play, and we didn't, but that's a tough one to swallow. We've played four games and we've given up the first goal each time and obviously, I think we're due."
Reaves and McLeod had been jostling the entire game, it seemed, and he went in to, by his words was, "I'm going to come in and grab the toughest guy in the scrum. That's what I've done my whole career. I grab McLeod and everybody else grabs a guy and somehow me and 'Eddy' end up in the box and they have one guy. It is what it is.
"... Surprised, disappointed. I think it's a terrible call. I disagree with it 100 percent. You've got 10 guys all grabbing one guy (each), and somehow you pick one extra on one team in a crucial part of the game in a big series. I think it's bad judgment."
"I've given him chance after chance," Reaves added, regarding McLeod. "I don't think he wants that anymore. I think at that point in the game in a series like this that's just two guys battling and you don't take an extra out of that."
Reaves originally thought the penalties would even out.
"One-hundred percent," he said. "No doubt in my mind that's an even-up call.
"Originally (O'Rourke) said me and McLeod have a two and a 10. Somehow that 10 got erased and 'Eddy' got an extra two. I don't know who was the extra. No explanation. Just two guys sitting in the box."
The penalties occurred at 4:11 of the third period and Ellis scored off a rebound at 5:09 to put Nashville ahead 1-0.
"They scored on the power play, didn't they? Not a great call," Pietrangelo, still upset, said.
"I think when it's that close of a game in a playoff game, you either call 10 guys or you call no one," Blues center Paul Stastny said. "Whatever. They ended up scoring on that, and sometimes you don't want to take it out of a players' hands.
"I think it's just a scrum, an all-around scrum, it wasn't until after the game, I didn't even know who had the extra penalty. It's a little difference in the game and then they score one, we score one, I think that goal kind of changed the game a little bit."
And all of the sudden, the Blues were chasing again.
"I'm really proud of what our guys brought to the table tonight," Yeo said. "The intensity-wise, the way they were committed, the way that they played for each other. It was a real tough, tight-checking game both ways. I think both teams were having to fight their way through it and I think we were doing a good job with that. Obviously they grabbed the first goal and you felt like in a game like that, that was going to be a key moment.
"It's frustrating to be down the way we were competing and the way we were engaged in the game. Then we went down with the penalty call and it took us a while to regroup after that."
James Neal scored his second of the series at 13:03 to make it 2-0, off a David Perron giveaway trying to push a puck back to teammate Carl Gunnarsson that Neal got a piece of, spun and whipped a puck at the net that caromed off Gunnarsson and past Jake Allen into the top lefthand corner.
"You know what though? That's OK. It's frustrating," Yeo said. "We knew that this was a good team coming in, and we'd like to be in a better position than we are right now, but we're excited to take what we're seeing out of ourselves after tonight and take it to another level going back home."
A scoreless first period saw the Blues with the best scoring chances, and Vladimir Tarasenko had two of them off turnovers in the slot. One from the high slot, and another from near the top hash marks, but Rinne was able to make saves on both.
Neither team scored in the second period either, but the Blues came close in the closing seconds, but Ellis was able to swat a puck out of the blue paint near the goal line denying any goal, and then blocking the backhand rebound attempt by Pietrangelo.
"We can say generate, generate, but we've got to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net," Pietrangelo said. "(Rinne's) making good saves, he's playing well. Both goalies are playing well, so we've just got to find a way to get a couple behind him. Power play's got to be better."
The Blues were 0-for-2 on Tuesday and are 1-for-9 in the series and 2-for-24 in the postseason.
"That's what we have to look at right now, whether it's combinations, whether it's ... obviously power play, we're going to have to switch that up right now," Yeo said. "I think more than anything, we have to make life tough on their goalie. I don't think we have. When we do, we see some scrambles, we see some situations where I think we can get maybe a little bit more chasing things, but I think we can do a better job of that."