“Don’t start writing until the first period is over!” I told myself as I sat down at the laptop. I wanted to wait and see which Nashville Predators team came out of the locker room to start the game.
After Game 1, I wrote this article, in which I said,
The Predators spent an entire season establishing their identity as a physical team that plays a full 60-minute game, finishes all of their checks, forechecks aggressively, and forces teams to think twice about going into the corners or entering the zone. In fact, the biggest part of all the “this is how the Predators can win this series” articles alluded to the fact that the Colorado Avalanche are not as physical a team as the Predators are and that by leaning into that identity, Nashville could force Colorado to play a style of game they didn’t want to play.
And, of course, Game 1, if you haven’t been able to purge it from your memory bank, was an example of what happens when you don’t do any of those things.
Heading into Game 2, that recipe for success mentioned above didn’t change. The question was whether or not the team that came out to start the first period followed that game plan. In short, they did. The first ended in a 1-1 tie. Nashville’s goal game from Yakov Trenin and the third (Herd) line doing what they’d been known to do almost all season long—lay down bowel-shaking hits and score goals in the wake of devastation they left behind.
Nashville also earned two power plays after forcing Colorado to take undisciplined penalties as the result of forcing them to play a game they didn’t want to play: a slower, grinding game that resulted in the Avalanche absorbing a lot of hits along the boards. My biggest complaint was that the Predators didn’t seem to ever get set up on either of the power plays.
Oh, and Connor Ingram got the start in net and looked cool, calm, and collected. Only allowing one goal—an off-the-rush goal from MacKinnon. Which is what happens when MacKinnon gets loose.
For all of the prowess the Predators showed at drawing penalties in the first, they reminded everyone what undisciplined penalties look like in the second—Carrier for hooking after getting drawn into a chicken wing, Forbserg for tripping Rantanen, and finally, the most avoidable, Fabbro for roughing on a retaliatory swipe at Nichuskin after he came to defend MacKinnon after his Oscar-worthy fall.
The upside? Connor Ingram was flawless in the net and Yakov Trenin operated on the penalty kill like the Abominable Snowman, right at home wreaking havoc in the midst of an Avalanche. While the period did end with the Predators on a 4-second-old power play (because Colorado lost a challenge after it was deemed that sitting on a goaltender while a shot goes in is actually goaltender interference) the Predators didn’t do much shooting.
My personal opinion, again, is that the team seemed hesitant to make a full commitment to getting set up in the offensive zone, leaving defenders unactivated to ensure Colorado didn’t turn any rebounds into breakaways. The Predators did what they needed to do by forechecking aggressively and getting cleaner zone entries, but the lack of offensive commitment all but guaranteed that their score would stay at 1. My hope going into the third, especially on the power play, was that the team would be able to add this final, necessary element to their attack. Believe it or not, they wound up drawing another penalty almost immediately and had an extended 5-on-3 that yielded, well, nothing.
The Predators, once again, seemed to unwilling to get a solid 5-man offensive attack set up and took very few shots all period. Luke Kunin took an unnecessary penalty late in the third, but Connor Ingram put on the performance of his life in net with the penalty killers putting on a clinic in front of him. The rest of the period was absolute pure playoff madness, but the clock managed to run out.
Since I had a full intermission before OT, regardless of the outcome, here’s my biggest takeaway from regulation: This game tonight proves that with a solid goaltender, the Predators’ aggressive, physical game plan will work. The missing ingredient is having more confidence in your offense and getting those defenders to join in on the attack. That would allow more action in front of the net for Predators and that’s where goals come from...the front of the net.
The other thing I’ll add is this: remember the multitude of activity in front of the Nashville crease in Game 1? It mysteriously dried up for Game 2. Remember the whole thing about making Colorado think twice about going to dangerous areas? It looks like they realized it isn’t worth the potential for penalties to engage Nashville in such a manner. Again, this is proof that the game plan works.
Again, regardless of the outcome of this overtime, that wasthe takeaway moving forward. (Oh, and also: Connor Ingram.)
But let’s talk about OT.
The Predators lost in overtime. The cold, hard reality about it was that on a night where Colorado took 50 shots, they only managed to score on two of them and the vast majority of credit for that feat goes to Connor Ingram. The Predators did not generate enough scoring chances to get the job done, and I feel like I’ve gone over that at length in the paragraphs above.
As much as it made everyone feel better to point out that even after losing 7-2 in Game 1 that the series was sitting at just 1-0, after losing 2-1 in Game 2, the series is sitting at 2-0 and Colorado is in the driver’s seat. If this team wants to push this series farther than four games, they MUST commit to sustained possession in the offensive zone in order to generate more high-danger scoring chances. Failure to do that, even with Ingram on a heater and controlling the pace of the game, will result in failure overall.
Hearts may be broken, but you still need to be a goldfish.