The Nashville Predators still need one more win to end their first-round series. They’ll need to go to the Pepsi Center to get it.
The Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks dispatched of their first-round opponents in four games. The Winnipeg Jets needed five. The only Western Conference series still ongoing pits the top-seeded President’s Trophy-winning Nashville Predators against the Colorado Avalanche.
Most of us didn’t expect this. The Predators had won their last ten meetings with the Avalanche heading into the series. Colorado clinched the Western Conference’s second wild-card slot on the last night of the regular season while Nashville was the first to qualify for the postseason. If any series was destined to end in four games, it seemed like this one would be the choice.
Nashville Predators fans know that things rarely go as planned this time of year. The outcome & circumstances of last season’s first-round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks are well-known. Many more people had the Predators losing in four games than winning in four games. The unexpected regularly happens during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s far more memorable than the expected.
It is important to remember that playoff series often go six or seven games. The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in the same position with the Philadelphia Flyers, a team they dominated in the regular season. Their fans are not over-reacting, as the Penguins have been in this situation time & again. The Nashville Predators & their fans are not used to high expectations & the idea that things work out in the end.
Expect the unexpected
Up until Game 5, I wasn’t surprised by the way the series was going. The Predators’ flatness had been a problem towards the end of the regular season, so it wasn’t shocking that other teams looked more like Stanley Cup favorites. The Avalanche spent the last month trying to earn a playoff spot, so they were already in playoff mode.
I expected the Avalanche to come out strong in Game 3. They were close in the first two games, and were heading home in front of a crowd that would set the atmosphere to boost their game. After that happened, I thought the Predators would strike back & take a game in Denver. Nashville has responded well to adversity all season, and a punch in the mouth seemed like just the thing to get them going.
From a fan perspective, and as somebody that values his sleep, I was hoping the series would end on Friday night. I may have texted an obscenity at one of my Avalanche fan friends after the game. It certainly felt like the perfect time to put the Avalanche out of their misery. The series was heading back to Bridgestone Arena. Colorado was starting a goalie that hadn’t started a game in the NHL during the 2017-18 season.
So what went wrong?
Hammond Burgles Rinne
Called it. Andrew Hammond stole the Nashville Predators’ hopes & dreams on Friday night. He made forty-four saves on forty-five shots & looked like the Vezina Trophy finalist in the game. Now, Pekka Rinne had a decent game himself, and I know he hasn’t been getting much help from his critically-acclaimed defensemen in this series. At the end of the day, he’s looking a lot more like the early playoff version of Pekka Rinne that couldn’t get it done when it counted.
We all know the Nashville Predators need better if they’re going to make a run.
I don’t think anybody in this series looks like a Norris Trophy candidate, and that includes P.K. Subban. Subban has been a non-factor for most of the series, and Friday night was no exception. We’ve yet to see any of the Nashville Predators defensemen score a goal in the first round, which is certainly out of character.
The Avalanche are missing a number of key defensemen & haven’t been great on that end of the ice. They’re not getting out-played by Nashville, though. Prior to Friday night, at least one team had scored five goals in each game. That kind of defense isn’t going to get it done in later rounds.
Can’t stop the MacKinnon Line
You know the old saying: “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him”. It qualifies for Nathan MacKinnon & his linemates. The Nashville Predators knew that MacKinnon & linemates Gabriel Landeskog & Mikko Rantanan were Colorado’s best chance to get on the scoreboard. They had done well at limiting MacKinnon’s opportunities during the regular season & hoped to do the same here.
That hasn’t happened. MacKinnon has three goals & three assists through five games. Landeskog, in addition to committing several dirty plays that have mostly gone uncalled by the officials, leads the Avalanche with four goals & three assists. Rantanen has helped out with four assists. Comparatively speaking, the Nashville Predators’ top scorers have been quiet. Filip Forsberg has been tremendous & Ryan Johansen has had his moments, but the Predators need more than one goal & one assist through five games from Viktor Arvidsson. Kyle Turris needs to contribute more than one assist to the proceedings.
As much as I love Austin Watson, things aren’t going right with the Nashville offense if he has the most points after five games.
The Nashville Predators are heading back to Denver for Game 6 on Sunday night. Puck will drop sometime around 7:00 PM ET/6:00 PM CT. I like watching hockey, but I would prefer this series to be over already. Hopefully the Predators will feel the same way & play angry.
It’s much better to play angry than write angry.