by Ed Neely
The Nashville Predators hosted a matinee meeting with the Colorado Avalanche in Game 2 of their 1st Round playoff series. The Avs were still without Goalie Semyon Varlamov and Defenseman Erik Johnson for a 2nd post-season game in a row and also without former Predator Samuel Girard, who was last seen looking for his jock strap after being undressed and spanked by Filip Forsberg in Game 1.
This meeting between the Preds and Avs started much like game 1. The Avalanche got on the board with their 1st shot on goal. Former Predator, Gabriel Bourque, beat Pekka Rinne just over the top of his glove side pad 2:34 into the 1st period. The rest of the period was a dead heat, with Rinne and Bernier turning away a number of high danger chances. At least in this game, the Predators looked like they came out of the locker room on time, but the Avalanche would not just roll over for a deeper and more talented Preds team. The score remained 1-0 Avalanche after one period.
The Preds woke up in the 2nd period with three unanswered goals before Hart Trophy contender, Nathan McKinnon cut back into the Preds lead. Kevin Fiala (from Sissons and Turris) got the Preds on the board with his third career post-season goal at the 1:01 mark with a shot off the skate of Patrik Nemeth. Viktor Arvidsson gave the Predators the lead 12;36 into the 2nd with an unassisted laser from the right faceoff circle that beat Bernier on the far side. At the 16:32 mark, Ryan Johansen put a beauty of a backhand past Bernier that capped a sequence started by P.K. Subban. Subban made a possible goal saving block that upended Tyson Barrie and ended up on Joey’s stick, from Mattias Ekholm. The Smashville faithful, egged on by Johansen, erupted and felt the rout was on, until Nathan McKinnon, put a backhand past Pekka with just under 3 minutes remaining in the period to cut the lead to 3-2 Predators.
The third period was a defensive and goaltending struggle, until the 7:16 mark when, in a blown play by Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov, Nick Bonino capitalized on a near too many men penalty by the Avs. Bones took the puck into the offensive zone and gave it to Kevin Fiala, who fed Austin Watson for his 2nd goal of this series and. Yet Avalanche still would not go away. Just under halfway through the third period, Gabriel Landeskog put a powerplay goal past Pekka Rinne with Turris and Sissons in the box. This cut the Predators’ lead back down to one goal. The Avs, down by a goal, pulled Bernier with around 2 minutes to go and when P.K. Subban appeared to have iced the puck for the 2nd time in a row, Ryan Hartman cautght the Avs defense sleeping and put the rebound off the end boards into the back of the net to put the Preds back up by 2 goals with just over a minute remaining in regulation. The Avs got one of those goals back with just under 40 seconds remaining when Kerfoot put a wrister past Rinne through traffic an cut the lead back to a single goal. The Preds closed them out with wins in the faceoff circle and good defensive puck movement to preserve the 5-4 victory and to move to a 2-0 lead in the series.
What we learned
Special Teams are critical to winning in hockey and especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Preds continue to warm the bench in the home penalty box with both teams committing 7 penalties each, but Nashville has been able to kill off 9 of 10 penalties this series, while scoring 2 powerplay goals on 9 attempts. The Avs had the 8th best powerplay and 4th best penalty kill on the season, but this has been an advantage for the Preds so far.
The Predators’ depth is the key difference in this series. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban have been averaging around 25 minutes of playing time and no Preds forward has played more than 18 1/2 minutes in the series, while Nathan McKinnon has averaged 23 minutes and his line mates have played well over 20 minutes each. This reliance on their top line leads them to be far more tired late in the game and creates a significant advantage for the Preds.
The Preds fly out from Signature Flight Support tomorrow at noon, so get out there early and send the boys off to the Mile High City where they will work to sweep the Avs out to the golf course. They will need the rest because the Jets appear to be hitting their stride against the depleted Wild.
Photo taken from NHL.com video