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Goaltending figures to be key as Blues host Preds

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues know how well goalie Jake Allen played in their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, but they have one sobering fact staring them in the face as they prepare for round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As good as Allen was, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was even better in his first-round series, leading the Predators to a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, the top seed in the Western Conference.

Rinne shut out the Blackhawks in two of the four games and allowed a total of three goals in the series on 126 shots.

Whether the Blues can have more success against Rinne than the Blackhawks did likely will determine which team wins the series and advances to the Western Conference final. Game 1 is Wednesday night in St. Louis.

The Blues are trying to reach the conference final for the second consecutive year, while Nashville has never advanced that far, losing in the second round to San Jose a year ago. The Blues then lost to the Sharks in the conference final.

This is the first time the Blues and Predators have met in the playoffs.

One of the keys to the Blues' win over the Wild in the first round might have been some inside knowledge from coach Mike Yeo, who spent five years behind the Minnesota bench before he was fired 14 months ago.

They could have another source for information on the Predators in backup goalie Carter Hutton, who spent three years as Rinne's backup before signing as a free agent with the Blues last summer.

"Knowing some guys and their mentalities, the way they handle games, the ins and outs of every guy is important," Hutton told NHL.com. "Before each series, we try to analyze it the best we can, and obviously, they're playing good hockey. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we're pretty pumped for it."

Each team is quite familiar with the other's goalie. Rinne has started 39 games against the Blues in his career, including three this season. Allen has logged 10 games against the Predators in his career, four of them coming this year.

"Chicago didn't get much in four games, which is very impressive," Blues center Paul Stastny said of Rinne's performance. "We have to get second- and third-chance opportunities, try to get in front of him so he doesn't see the puck."

Stastny returned to the lineup for the final game against the Wild, his first since sustaining a broken foot on March 21. The Predators could be getting a key player of their own back for this series in forward Colin Wilson, who missed the Chicago series. Wilson led Nashville with 13 playoff points last year.

"I think that (the Blues) are a heavy team, so you have to have some heavy players down low, and that's why my game can work well against them, to battle their attributes," Wilson told NHL.com. "I think I've always played well against the Blues."

There is no question, however, the most important player for the Predators will be Rinne, just as he was against the Blackhawks.

Rinne thinks having lost in the second round last year is serving as motivation for the Predators' attempt to advance further this season.

"In anybody's career, you're going to have your ups and downs, and you're going to learn from your defeats," Rinne told NHL.com. "You're going to go through those things, and I think when you go through it as a team, it's good for you. Last year, it was an empty feeling after that Game 7 loss in San Jose. Now we're in the same situation, going back to the second round.

"The biggest thing, too, even though there's a lot of fans going crazy and the whole city is supporting us, I feel like us players stay pretty even-keeled, and I think that's a good sign. That's a great thing, and that's how it should be. We haven't done anything yet, and I think that's the mindset we've been having."