The Nashville Predators faced the Colorado Avalanche tonight in a game with much bigger stakes for the Preds than the Avs. Unfortunately, the reason the stakes were bigger for the Preds was, in essence, that the Avs have been a better team all season long. David Rittich started, with Juuse Saros’s injury leaving him out for at least the rest of the regular season.
Matt Benning took a penalty less than two minutes in, and Cale Makar scored off the faceoff on the ensuing power play. While the Preds’ top line got some chances in return, Darcy Kuemper was able to keep the door shut. Some further pressure from the Preds also came to no avail, and with 13:14 remaining in the period Artturi Lehkonen tipped a Josh Manson shot to give the Avs a 2-0 lead.
A scuffle broke out a moment later, and Mathieu Olivier and Logan O’Connor were sent to sit for coincidental penalties. The Avs attacked strongly through most of the 4v4, and one of the Preds’ brief forays into the offensive zone was greeted with loud boos of Matt Duchene.
He got the Preds on the board moments later, thanks to a fantastic play by Roman Josi, and after Rittich had managed to withstand a Nathan MacKinnon breakaway. The arena reacted significantly worse to Duchene’s goal than Duchene’s OZ possession.
The Avs responded immediately, piling shot after shot on through several minutes of relentless pressure until O’Connor broke through with a shot that initially looked like it missed the net completely and gave the Avs the 3-1 lead. The Preds responded by having Colton Sissons take a roughing penalty against former teammate Samuel Girard, and although the Avs didn’t score on the power play it allowed them to finish the period on a high note.
They started the second period off with another power play, as Mikael Granlund roughed MacKinnon just twenty seconds in. A strong penalty kill from the Preds, including some shorthanded chances, put them in good position, and a moment after they’d killed the penalty off Ryan Johansen scored to cut the Avs’ lead to one.
Unfortunately, although the Preds tried to build off of that goal, they were unable to score and Yakov Trenin was called for high-sticking against Darren Helm, putting the Avs back on the power play. The Preds killed it off but then gave up a goal to J.T. Compher, making it 4-2 with a little more than half the game still to go.
Finally on the other side of the halfway point, Mark Borowiecki took a slashing penalty against O’Connor and the Avs went to the power play again. The Preds were able to kill off the penalty, and Borowiecki went for the OZ possession as he escaped the box, but with only Olivier in support it didn’t pan out and Kuemper was easily able to handle the threat.
With 3:54 remaining in the second period, the Avs were finally called for a penalty as Helm interfered with Duchene. There was some confusion a few seconds in, as Roman Josi went end to end through the entire Avalanche defense and put the puck past Kuemper and into the net, immediately before also putting himself into the net and the net off the pegs. The initial call on the ice was no goal, but a review overturned this, making the score 4-3 with the Avs still leading.
Once again, the Avalanche responded, going on the attack. A missed interference call on a retaliatory play by MacKinnon after a hit from Granlund let them continue that attack, but things finally started to turn. Luke Kunin and Philip Tomasino went streaking up ice, and Lehkonen’s slash on Tomasino’s hands may have saved a goal but gave the Preds another power play with just under two minutes left in the period.
This time they were unable to convert, and the Avs started the third period strongly. A poorly-timed stumble by Josi let the Avs get set up, but Rittich made several high-stakes saves to keep the Preds’ deficit at one. Borowiecki took a puck to the inside of the knee and had to leave the ice, but the Preds held on.
With about four minutes elapsed, Mattias Ekholm tied the game 4-4 so soon after a TV timeout that the arena music was still playing. The Avalanche went back on the attack and promptly drew yet another penalty, as Matt Benning went to the box for hooking Nicolas Aube-Kubel. However, MacKinnon opted to hold the stick just after the opening faceoff of his team’s power play, putting the teams 4v4.
Neither team scored, and they proceeded to trade chances. Tomasino had another great opportunity with under seven minutes remaining, but Kuemper was able to make the save. The Avs were quick to pounce on a turnover a few moments later, but despite a terrifying rebound Rittich was able to cover the puck and get the whistle.
With 2:44 remaining in the third period, Helm was called for another penalty, this one for holding, as Dante Fabbro helped point out the penalty to the referees with his response. Filip Forsberg hit the crossbar on the power play, but no goal; a missed pass a few seconds later let the Avalanche clear, and they were able to kill it off after that, but iced the puck.
Rittich had to make another big save with seconds left, but this time was able to make the save, and the Preds headed to overtime with one point banked.
Despite a brief flash of hope very early as Nazem Kadri was sent spinning into the wall and the Preds got a brief odd-man rush, things didn’t start well for the Preds. They were hemmed into their own zone for most of the first two minutes of overtime before Rittich finally got them a whistle.
MacKinnon and Forsberg both had phenomenal chances, but Rittich and Kuemper made the respective saves. A great shift by the Preds with around a minute left featured a prime chance from Josi and another bar for Forsberg. Time ran out, and the teams headed to the shootout, where Duchene scored the only goal to win it for the Preds.