If Game 4 wasn’t a microcosm of the entire 2021-22 Nashville Predators’ season, I don’t know what was. There were exciting moments that swelled optimism among the Preds fanbase, only to be snuffed by absolutely gut-wrenching pockets of play that ultimately sealed Nashville’s fate.
And when the final buzzer sounded, the Predators, who had spent all season shattering almost every long-standing single-season team record imaginable, would make their way into the record books one last time...
The first time the Predators have ever been swept in a playoff series.
Give credit where it’s due: the Colorado Avalanche were the better team throughout the series. At times, the quality of play was so lopsided, it was hard not to envision the Alabama Crimson Tide taking the field against some poor Missouri Valley Conference team for their “feel good game” in week two of the college football season. The Predators, a team that prides themselves on their identity of a “hard team to play against,” never quite lived up to that billing.
If there’s any solace, it’s that Game 4 was the Nashville Predators’ best of the series. It was the one game that someone could watch out of context with the rest of the series and think “wow, this series could go either way.”
And yet, as the story has been the entire series, the Predators still couldn’t find a way to beat the Avalanche. As a result, a season that once featured so much optimism now ends in one of the most embarrassing playoff exits in team history.
Once again, the Predators went to the line blender to try and find some early energy, and once again, it wouldn’t matter. The Avalanche would (as is tradition at this point) strike two minutes in on an Andre Burakovsky shot that—shades of Shea Weber in the 2010 Olympics—tore through the net. The refs initially missed the goal, but went back to review it at the next intermission and made the right call.
That early score firmly gave Colorado the momentum for most of the period, stymying any shred of offensive pressure from the Preds while continuing to keep the puck in the Preds’ end. Ingram, for his part, made a few good saves to keep the Preds in it early.
It looked like it was going to be another tense intermission for John Hynes and company until a mistake by Colorado opened the door for Nashville. Colton Sissons stole the puck after a botched Nico Sturm clearing attempt and fed it to Yakov Trenin for the tying goal with a minute left in the period.
The momentum shift from Trenin’s goal carried over into the second period. The Preds had a noticeable jump in energy and intensity to start the period, putting Colorado back on their heels a bit for. This ten-minute stretch was really the first time I can remember the Avs really looking out-of-sorts this series.
Unfortunately, the Avs would play themselves back into form. A heady play from Cale Makar in the neutral zone prevented the Preds from making a change at the end of a long shift, and moments later, Makar himself would capitalize with a bar-down shot to make it 2-1 Avs.
But the Preds would not go quietly. They responded with a great series of shifts. After a scramble following a Pavel Francouz save on a Sissons breakaway, Trenin whipped a rebound shot past the Avs’ goalie to tie it again at 2-2. That was the score at the second intermission.
The Predators kept their foot on the gas for the start of the third period, swarming around Francouz and putting the most sustained pressure on Colorado’s net that they had all season. I think it’s important to note all four Predators lines looked solid during this stretch; Even the much-maligned Luke Kunin had a few plays to keep the play in Colorado’s end (the combination of Cody Glass, Phil Tomasino, and Eeli Tolvanen, meanwhile.... That’s the sugar daddy likes.)
Ultimately, it would be the Preds’ top line that gave Nashville their first lead of the series. Filip Forsberg finished a tic-tac-toe play from Mattias Ekholm and Matt Duchene to tally his first point of the series and give Nashville a 3-2 lead.
The Predators kept momentum going for the next several minutes. But a dubious no-call helped even things up again. Nicolas Aube-Kubel hit Duchene in the head with a high stick/cross check/whatever you want to call it. While Duchene was laboring, the Avs went on the rush, and Devon Toews’s third goal in two games evened things up again at 3-3.
Just three minutes later, Makar would make magic happen again, beating a check attempt along the boards to get into the Preds’ zone and firing a laser of a pass to Val Niskushkin to set up a one-timer for a 4-3 Colorado lead.
At this point, the Avs smelled blood in the water, absolutely smothering the Preds in their own zone and making it near impossible for Nashville to get anything going beyond the neutral zone. If it wasn’t for a couple of key saves by Ingram and a brilliant defensive play by Matt Benning on Nathan MacKinnon, this could have gotten out of hand at this point.
The Preds pulled Ingram with just under two minutes left, but they wouldn’t have the advantage for long. Forsberg was forced to take an interference penalty just twenty seconds later to prevent what would have been an easy empty-net goal for Mikko Rantanen. After a few dump ins on the penalty kill, the Preds were able to get Ingram off again, but MacKinnon iced the game a few seconds later with a deep shot from behind the red line. That sealed the game and the series.