Nashville Predators: Time for Colorado’s season to go up in smoke

(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators can take the first step in defending their Western Conference crown by clearing the Avalanche out of the way.

From the moment the Stanley Cup Finals ended last year until now, the mission has been clear. Every move geared toward completing the goal established by this team. They did everything needed to accomplish the first step, gaining home ice in the playoffs. Now, the Nashville Predators can check-off the next task and clear away the Colorado Avalanche.

It will be no easy task. Colorado is a worthy opponent, showing effort in every moment of the series. Alas, they hope and dreams of being the new “Nashville Predators” and eliminating a top-seeded team are swept away like dust in the win. Tonight, any hopes of moving forward should go up in smoke.

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Don’t get me wrong. I am impressed with the Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon is as advertised, leading their front line to greatness. They will be a team to reckon with for the next few years. However, the Predators are the team right now. In order to prove this, winning at home tonight is crucial.

Shot early and often

The real Nashville Predators finally stood up during the first period of Game 4. The shot-suppressing defense turned into great offensive chances. Colorado was limited to just eight shots on goal, none coming from their vaunted top line. With the game on Bridgestone ice, the Predators must come out with the same fire and energy as they did in Game 4. If that happens, the energy of the fans will avalanche on Colorado.

It was announced yesterday that Jonathan Bernier, who was removed from Game 4 due to injury, will not start for the Avalanche tonight. Instead, veteran Andrew Hammond gets the call. Bernier performed at an extremely high level during this series, keeping the Avalanche in the game. Can Hammond prove worthy in goal? The Predators will certainly test him from the start.

Penalty problems

Yet, the largest concern for the Predators is the penalties. Nashville received the most penalties of any team in the NHL during the season, averaging just under 10 penalty minutes per game. During this series, the Predators are averaging 12.5 penalty minutes per game and allowing several 5v3 opportunities. However, the top-10 power play of the Avalanche have not taken advantage. In 18 power play chances, Colorado has two goals. Both on two-man advantages.

It is not just the penalties, it is the type of calls. The Predators will be without forward Ryan Hartman in Game 5. The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended Hartman for cross-checking Carl Soderberg in the face during a chippy Game 4. Earlier in the game, Hartman was speared in the groin but was called for holding the stick of his opponent. He then dropped the gloves and took a second penalty.

Hartman was not the only player to commit noteworthy physical acts. Gabriel Landeskog gave Mattias Ekholm a shot to the face with his stick.

Avalanche fans are still upset about P.K. Subban‘s hit to MacKinnon earlier in the series. To say things have been physical is an understatement. The Predators cannot allow the frustrations of the Avalanche dominate the emotions of the game. They cannot take ridiculous penalties.

Keys to the game

The Nashville Predators can finish off the Avalanche today. And they should. Being on home ice means a great deal to the momentum of the game. If the Predators come out like they did in Game 4, the series will end tonight. They gained 11 high-danger chances during Game 4, seven coming in the opening period. With the energy of the stadium and a new goalie in net, everything leads to a dominant Predators game.

However, Pekka Rinne needs to show why he is the Vezina favorite. He started to do just that in Game 4. In 28 high-danger chances during 5v5, Rinne allowed 6 goals. Of course, four were in the horrendously team-performed Game 3. The result is a 78.5% high-danger saves percentage. The defense left Rinne out to dry several times, but the Vezina-finalist finished the season with an 88.8% high-danger saves rating.

Lastly, Nashville has to keep the play between whistles. It will certainly be a physical game, but allowing things to get out of hand after the whistles can lead to more penalties. The Hartman penalties in the third period of Game 4 provided Colorado a chance to come back. Nashville needs to keep things in check by not checking the Avalanche illegally. More penalties means more problems.

Can the second line do…well, something? Kyle Turris has been nearly invisible during the series, while Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala have no goals at even-strength. Getting some quality chances tonight would be a great sign leading into the next series.

Next: #Pekka4Vezina

Nashville can end the series tonight. And they should. But Colorado is a better team than many of us gave them credit. Even so, the Predators have a closeout game on home ice. Few things get fans higher than that.