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Predators finish eighth

4/4/2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The St. Louis Blues finally can relax
with their playoff streak extended for one more year.

Brian Savage scored the tiebreaking goal at 2:43 of the third
period, and the Blues beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 Saturday,
clinching their 25th consecutive playoff berth.

The Predators also secured a playoff spot when Vancouver beat
Edmonton 5-2 later Saturday. It is Nashville's first playoff berth
in the franchise's six-year history.

The Blues' run, which started in 1980, remains the longest such
streak in major league sports, and it marks a remarkable turnaround
for a team that won only six of 27 games from late December into
February.

St. Louis, assured of the Western Conference's seventh seed,
rebounded with a late-season surge to extend that streak. The
Blues' first victory in Nashville this season gave them their 10th
win in 15 games.

"We put ourselves in a pretty deep hole here, but we've gotten
ourselves out of it and I'm proud of that," Blues forward Doug
Weight said. "Our guys, we couldn't be playing better going into
the playoffs. We believe, and we had our destiny in our own hands
and we took advantage of it."

Now interim Blues coach Mike Kitchen has the option of resting
some people like goalie Chris Osgood, who has played in seven
straight, on Sunday at Minnesota.

"The team has battled hard for a long time here," Kitchen
said.

St. Louis scored a pair of empty-net goals in the final 90
seconds. Dallas Drake scored first at 18:41, and Chris Pronger
added one at 19:10. Petr Cajanek also had a goal.

Fans, who comprised the Predators' sixth home sellout this
season, made the game feel like a playoff opener instead of the
final home game as they kept chanting and blowing air horns. The
teams played like it, too, looking more like they were killing off
penalties in a physical, low-shooting game.

"It was a playoff game. There's no question about it," Blues
defenseman Bryce Salvador said. "It was a tight checking,
hard-hitting. ... What more can you ask for? The fans were in here
for them. It was really loud, and it was a great atmosphere."

The Predators lost for the third time in six games because the
Blues outshot them 25-17. Osgood, the NHL defensive player of the
month in March, smothered almost everything that came near him. He
is 5-1 in his last six starts.

Savage broke the tie with his 16th goal, scored at the left
front edge off a pass from Weight behind the net.

The Predators went up 1-0 on their first shot as Scott Hartnell
scored his 17th at 1:11 of the first under Osgood's stick from the
left corner of the crease off a drop pass from Greg Johnson.

St. Louis answered at 10:09 of the first as Cajanek got his 12th
off a deflection with assists to Pascal Rheaume and Pavol Demitra.

The officials acted as if it were a playoff game as well,
holding off calling penalties until forced to by a fight after the
first-period horn sounded. Nashville forward Jeremy Stevenson took
St. Louis right wing Jamal Mayers to the ice after a few punches.

Osgood sprawled to stop the Predators' best scoring chances on
Hartnell's backhander at 12:56, and he also smothered a shot by
Adam Hall in the final minutes of the period following a beautiful
spinning pass by Mark Eaton.

Game notes
The 1968-1996 Boston Bruins hold the NHL record for most
consecutive playoff appearances at 29 years. The Chicago Blackhawks
made it 28 straight years from 1970-1997. ... Nashville dropped to
25-6-7-3 when scoring first, while St. Louis improved to 13-19-6-1
when falling behind 1-0. ... Hartnell's first-period goal was only
the 50th allowed by the Blues this season in the opening period.
... Approximately 360 fans bused down for the game from St. Louis,
giving the Blues some vocal support. ... Weight's assist extended
his point streak to five straight (one goal, five assists).