Everything seemed to be going right for the Nashville Predators.
After starting slow in Games 1-3, the Preds had a better start in Games 4 & 5. In a situation to clinch the series Friday, and with Andrew Hammond in net for Colorado, things looked promising.
But the old, familiar problem of not playing a full 60 minutes crept up once again.
After putting up some early pressure, Nashville put themselves in a hole when Kevin Fiala went to the penalty box early in the game following his own turnover. The penalty kill did its job, preventing an Avalanche goal, and Nashville amped up the pressure on Hammond when Fiala returned to the ice and the guys were back at even strength.
What followed was 50 minutes of the Preds putting up plenty of shots on Hammond. Unfortunately, most of these shots were of the low danger variety, but give Hammond full credit: he denied everything, regardless of difficulty.
Until the 3rd period, when Nashville finally broke the scoreless tie. A Mattias Ekholm pass bounced off of Nick Bonino’s skate and into the net. The goal was originally waved off, but after a video review, Toronto gave Nashville the lead.
The goal ended up being the only shot of the 45 by Nashville that got by Hammond. The Hamburglar played one of the better games of his career, but he more importantly stopped an incredible amount of shots. If the Predators put up 45 more shots Sunday, they will have a good chance to score more than 1 goal and hopefully eliminate the Avalanche in Denver.
But back to Game 5, because... well, the ending to this one was something else.
Immediately following the birthday boy’s go-ahead goal, the Avalanche amped up the pressure. And what did the Preds do? Turtled (what were you expecting me to say?). After about five minutes of pressure, a long defensive shift for Nashville allowed MacKinnon enough time to make a move on Subban, force Ellis to fall over on top of Rinne, and pass it to Landeskog for the tying goal.
Elite skill combined with desperation met a tired defense and an abandoned goalie. Tie game.
Unfortunately for the Preds, Colorado wasn’t done scoring. With 90 seconds remaining in the game, P.K. Subban made a move towards the net, and no one on the Preds’ already slow 4th line shifted back to cover for him. (In fact, Hartnell, the furthest forward from the net at that point, begins skating to the other faceoff circle, looking for a pass.) Subban’s play is broken up, the Avalanche have a 2-on-1, and Rinne’s rebound falls to the stick of an uncovered Sven Andrighetto to give Colorado the lead. Hammond made a few more huge saves in the final minute, and the Avalanche prevented Nashville from clinching the series at home.
Here’s the silver lining. Did the Preds play their best game? Certainly not. But they played a good game, at least up until the final five minutes. The Preds played winnable hockey for 55 minutes. Sunday they will need a full 60. These playoffs are hopefully far from over, and the Preds still have a shot at going deep in the playoffs.