There’s a first time for everything, and the Nashville Predators are entering the playoffs as one of the heavy favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup.
In their previous ten playoff trips, the Nashville Predators have assumed the underdog role. The tide is turning, and the Predators enter their first-round series with Colorado with a different kind of pressure – a pressure not to end up on the wrong end of a shocking upset.
Depth and goaltending are the two biggest gaps between these two teams. The Predators spent the last offseason building their depth, especially at the center position, to be built for another deep playoff run.
A lot of energy to open up the 2018 playoffs for the Predators. No surprise as both teams use speed to their advantage. The Avalanche would get the first scoring opportunity of the game, but the Predators would start putting pressure of their own on Colorado shortly after.
One thing that can keep the Avalanche in this series is the top line, led by Nathan Mackinnon. On Colorado’s first shot on goal of the game, they get on the board first. Mackinnon wastes little time making his impact on the series with an assist to Nikita Zadorov. This shot simply beats Pekka Rinne, something we’re not accustomed to saying. Rinne doesn’t look particularly sharp to start things. However, a big glove save on former Predator Colin Wilson kept the score 1-0 with around seven minutes remaining. Giving up a goal on the opponent’s first shot on goal of the playoffs has to be tough on the psyche.
The Predators started to build a little momentum and settle down as the period went on. This includes a Colton Sissons breakaway attempt that ends in clutch save for Avalanche goaltender Johnathan Bernier. Bernier adds another impressive save on Craig Smith shortly after. What was important was the Predators were starting to respond to the initial punch thrown by Colorado.
However, the Predators have gotten to know the penalty box quite well this season. Two penalties late in the period forced Rinne to make some incredible saves. You hate the penalties, but the Predators take some momentum to the intermission. A one-goal deficit isn’t ideal, but the Predators are too talented to fold after being down by just one. Check out Kristopher Martel’s first period summary from Fox Sports Tennessee:
After killing a brief amount of time on the penalty kill, the Predators kick it into another gear. The forecheck showed major improvement, and Rinne starts settling in. With that said, the Avalanche nearly make it a two-goal lead. One of the classic, acrobatic Rinne saves keeps Colorado from extending the lead. Matt Irwin deserves a lot of credit for keeping the loose puck from trickling across the red line:
Almost immediately after this crazy sequence, Austin Watson gets the Predators’ first goal of the 2018 playoffs. It’s a seemingly harmless shot that Bernier is late reacting to. As many people have said, the Predators can take over this series thanks to the goaltending.
How teams respond after a big goal is always tricky, and the Predators mess up by letting Colorado get it right back. They’re a hard-working team that uses a lot of speed to create chances. This goal from Blake Comeau gets redirected on Rinne as it was initially going wide of the net. A tough break, and another big momentum swing.
The Predators kept the intensity up despite giving Colorado back the lead while the announcer was still reading off the Watson goal. They stay aggressive on the forecheck and eventually draw their first penalty of the game. Here’s what happens just seconds into the power play:
Smith finds some open ice right in front of the net and buries it. Also a beautiful set-up pass from Ryan Johansen. It looks like the Predators’ power play is back to being one of the NHL’s best. The Predators keep control of the period and both teams trade scoring opportunities and solid play in goal. Rinne ends up getting the top highlight of the period by extending every inch of his frame to stop a breakaway attempt by the lethal Mikko Rantanen. The highly intense period ends at two goals apiece.
Same intensity continues into the third period. It doesn’t take long for Rinne to add another save to the highlight reel. This time it comes on Mackinnon on an Avalanche counter attack. Rinne gets the amazing glove save, and the game stay knotted at two. They always say teams ride the hot goaltender in the playoffs.
The Predators really start to camp out in the Colorado zone after Mackinnon is robbed by Rinne. It almost felt like the Predators were on the power play despite it being at even strength. After some extender pressure, Roman Josi throws a shot at the net, and Filip Forsberg directs it past Bernier. Bernier had no chance of stopping this. After a relentless forecheck to take back the momentum, the Predators finally took the lead.
With the lead, the Predators started beating Colorado to loose pucks to gain possession. It took a while, but the Predators take full control of this game at this point. Forsberg also wasn’t done scoring goals. His next one defies all logic as he maneuvers around Samuel Girard by putting the puck through his legs and beating Bernier up top. Check it out here:
An insurance goal from Sissons on an empty net secures the win. A valiant effort from an up and coming Colorado team. Ultimately the depth and superior goaltending is the difference-maker. The Predators take the coveted first game of the series and survive the aggressive start from Colorado. The Predators still haven’t lost to Colorado since early 2016.
Chad’s Three Stars
Third Star: Austin Watson
You could argue for a lot of players for third star, but I go with Watson thanks to his crucial first goal of the game to break the ice. Colorado was hunting for a two-goal lead until Watson scored.
Second Star: Pekka Rinne
Yes, he gave up two goals. With that said, Rinne neutralized a very aggressive Colorado attack that could’ve easily had three or four goals by the second intermission. He also robbed Rantanen and Mackinnon, Colorado’s top weapons.
First Star: Filip Forsberg
Forsberg follows up his hat-trick from the season finale with two more goals. His go-ahead goal erupts Bridgestone Arena, and his team never looks back after that. His second goal erases any chance of Colorado coming back.