The Nashville Predators were not expected to reach the playoffs in a season General Manager David Poile called a “competitive rebuild”. While the season has been up and down, that rebuild has been competitive enough for the Predators to earn a wildcard spot in the postseason.
Just like the Predators were not expected to be competitive in a stacked Central Division, they are also not expected to stack up well against a Stanley Cup frontrunner Colorado Avalanche team. Despite the Predators having a 3-1 record versus the Avs this season, the Predators entered this series a significant underdog. In game one, without Juuse Saros—who will miss at least the first two games in Denver—the Predators had their work cut out for them against an offensive juggernaut.
Darcy Kuemper and David Rittich were each tested early in the first two minutes of the game, but both handled their respective shots cleanly. It didn’t take long for Nashville to make their way to the penalty box as Michael McCarron was called for high sticking at 2:08. Colorado made quick work of the man advantage, with Nathan MacKinnon scoring the first goal of the game at 2:20.
The momentum from the power play energized the Avalanche players, and they quickly added a second goal, scored by Devon Toews at 2:42.
Nashville was gifted an opportunity when Toews was called for roughing at 6:47 for a hit on Luke Kunin. The penalty briefly interrupted the Avs’ building intensity, but an unforced turnover by Mattias Ekholm led to a shorthanded goal by Andrew Cogliano, making the game 3-0.
The Avs were beating Nashville not only with their speed—which was expected—but also with their physicality, which is usually the calling card of the Predators. Nashville was on the receiving end of hard checks and the losing end of tough board battles and spent the first half of the opening period just trying to weather the storm. The offensive onslaught continued, though, as Cale Makar took the puck past both Tanner Jeannot and Alexandre Carrier for goal #4.
Nashville had a chance to finally get on the scoreboard as McCarron found himself in front of the net with Kuemper down on the ice, but Kuemper was able to make a great save to frustrate the Predators even more.
The first period onslaught continued as Artturi Lehkonen raced past the defenders and made the score 5-0. That further energized the crowd at Ball Arena and ended the night for Rittich, as Connor Ingram took over for Nashville in net.
Nashville couldn’t catch their breath from goal number five before Phil Tomasino was called for a high stick at 15:56, giving an already juiced Avs team another power play. Colorado set up easily and kept the puck in the zone but weren’t able to convert on the man advantage. Nashville limped to the final buzzer after a disastrous start to their playoffs.
Ingram was tested early in the second period, but the young netminder handled the first two shots he faced well. The Avalanche continued playing at a high level, pinning the Preds on defense for significant stretches. It took Nashville nearly six minutes to establish their first extended offensive shift of the game, but none of their shot attempts made it past Kuemper.
The Predators settled into the game more as the period hit the halfway point. Ingram was able to track the puck well on a variety of looks from the potent Avs offense. At 13:10 Yakov Trenin headed to the box after removing Mikko Rantanen from a scrum in front of Ingram. Not quite halfway through the Trenin penalty, the Predators were called for too many men on the ice and the Avs had a five-on-three advantage. Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki, and Mikael Granlund took the ice for the Predators, but a flurry in front of the net resulted in Borowiecki kicking the puck into his own net, giving Colorado a 6-0 lead.
Nashville continued on the bench minor penalty kill. The teams played four on four for two seconds and then Nashville went on the man advantage. An aggressive penalty kill by Colorado kept the Preds from gaining any momentum, let alone a goal, on the power play.
Nashville got another chance at 18:32 as Bowen Byram was called for a cross check. Finally the Preds were able to get on the board, compliments of Matt Duchene at 18:40.
At the end of the period Lehkonen went after Tomasino and several Predators jumped in to defend the rookie. Once the referees separated the various scrums, Lehkonen and Tomasino were assessed ten minute misconduct penalties and Josh Manson was called for roughing. Nashville would start the third period on the power play.
The Predators took the ice in the final period on the man advantage. Nashville struggled to get set up and didn’t register a shot in the two minutes. The ice quickly tipped in Colorado’s favor, and the Avs pressured Ingram and the porous Predators defense. Nathan MacKinnon’s shot was redirected off a Nashville Predator past Connor Ingram at 6:03, giving the Avs a 7-1 lead.
Continuing the downward spiral, Yakov Trenin was called for tripping at 7:23, setting up the effective Avs power play once again. Colorado possessed and peppered for two minutes, but somehow didn’t score on the man advantage.
While the crowd at Ball Arena chanted “Duchene sucks! Duchene sucks!” Granlund passed the puck up ice to Duchene, who lifted the puck past Kuemper at 12:26.
Halfway through the final period, the Predators finally began checking, but it was far too little far too late. Tempers spilled over at 15:54 between Gabriel Landeskog and Matthieu Olivier. Each were given two minutes for roughing, but as Olivier started off the ice, he grabbed Nazem Kadri and earned himself a ten minute game misconduct. Shortly after, Ryan Johansen and Cale Makar headed to the box after a scuffle as well.
Thankfully, the final minutes ticked down and the Predators were put out of their misery in a disaster of a start to this round one playoff series.
- When the top ranked Avalanche bring their best game and the lowest-ranked Preds show up and play their worst hockey of the season, the result is absolutely disastrous. The Colorado Avalanche have so many weapons and they came out in this game with all guns blazing. Perhaps Nashville could have recovered from the early goals in the first period if they were playing to their identity, but instead they played some of their worst hockey in years. Beating a team like Colorado was going to be challenging on Nashville’s better days. The game they played in the first period was simply atrocious.
- This game had a lot of physicality...but not by the Predators. Nashville is known for playing a hard-hitting, hard-checking, physical game. Tonight the team playing to that identity was Colorado. Nashville got beat at their own game in the first period, and I think the physicality the Avs came out with stunned them.
- It almost doesn’t matter who is in net for Nashville when the rest of the team plays as badly as they did. Would this have been a different final score with Saros in net? Probably. But with some of the worst defense we’ve seen from this team all season and a completely stymied offense, even Saros couldn’t have stolen this game. Nashville has significant adjustments to make before Thursday’s game two if they hope to avoid a sweep by an incredibly talented and hot Avalanche team.