NASHVILLE – Ryan Johansen celebrated his game-winning goal with a windmill fist pump, and the Nashville Predators finished off the rest of a thrilling third period with the standing-room-only crowd on their feet anticipating history.
Yes, the team that plays in a place called "Smashville" is going someplace the Predators never have been: the Western Conference final.
Johansen scored 3:15 into the third period, and the Predators advanced to the conference final in their fourth try by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 to take the series in six games.
"It's a big step for the franchise," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "This is such a great city, such a great hockey city, I think people finally recognize that."
The Predators won their ninth consecutive playoff game in Nashville going back to last postseason.
"It's obviously a tough building," Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "So whoever they play next is going to have their hands full."
Goalie Pekka Rinne made 23 saves and had an assist. Josi had a goal and an assist, and Calle Jarnkrok added an empty-netter with 60 seconds left.
"Right now, it means everything," Rinne said. "We haven't gotten further than this before. Obviously, it's a great feeling. There's a lot of work left. … We all know that we have what it takes and everything is in our hands. It's a good feeling. This is why you play this game. Right now, I'm pretty happy."
Nashville will play either Anaheim or Edmonton.
Paul Stastny scored for St.Louis, which fell short of a second straight conference final.
The Predators and Blues were tied through the first 40 minutes when Johansen skated up the slot for a pass from Viktor Arvidsson and beat Allen with a backhand.
Allen kept the Blues close, as he had all series, stopping Filip Forsberg on a breakaway with 13:31 left. But Jarnkrok clinched it with a minute left.
"We're halfway there," Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "We've still got a ton of work to do. Enjoy it tonight and get ready for the next series."
This was a painful loss for St.Louis. Allen ranked just behind Rinne among stingy playoff goalies, and the Blues had been the NHL's best team after coach Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1.
"There were times where we felt like it was winnable, we could've come out on the other side," Yeo said of this series. "They definitely deserve to be moving on. But we feel it stinks. I hate to say it. But we'll learn from this and we'll find a way to get better."