In a season that General Manager David Poile described as a "competitive rebuild", the Nashville Predators weren't expected to make it to the playoffs. Although the season was difficult, the rebuild was competitive enough to allow the Predators to secure a wildcard spot for the playoffs.
The Predators weren't expected to compete in a competitive Central Division. They are not expected to do well against the Stanley Cup-frontrunner Colorado Avalanche team. The Predators were a significant underdog despite their 3-1 record against the Avs this year. The Predators faced an offensive juggernaut in game one.
David Rittich and Darcy Kuemper were both tested in the opening two minutes of play, but they each handled their shots well. Nashville was quick to get to the penalty box when Michael McCarron was penalized for high sticking at 2:18. Colorado quickly took advantage of the man advantage with Nathan MacKinnon scoring at 2:20.
The power play momentum energized Avalanche players and they added a second goal by Devon Toews at 2 minutes 42.
Nashville was presented with an opportunity when Toews, who was called for roughing at 6.47 for a hit against Luke Kunin, was called. Although the penalty temporarily slowed down the Avs' intensity building, a Mattias Ekholm unforced turnover led to Andrew Cogliano scoring a goal that made the game 3-0.
Nashville was beaten not only by the Avs' speed, which was to be expected, but also by their physicality. This is often the Predators' calling card. Nashville was the victim of many hard checks, losing board battles, and spent the first period trying to weather the storm. Cale Makar scored goal #4, beating Alexandre Carrier and Tanner Jeannot.
Nashville had an opportunity to get on the scoreboard when McCarron was in front of Kuemper on the ice. However, Kuemper was able make a tremendous save to frustrate even more Predators.
Artturi Lehkonen was able to race past the defenders, making it 5-0 in the first period. This energized the crowd at Ball Arena, and Rittich was finally done. Connor Ingram replaced Rittich in net.
Nashville was unable to catch their breath after goal number five. At 15:56 Phil Tomasino was called with a high stick. This gave the Avs an additional power play. Colorado was able to set up quickly and keep the puck in their zone, but they were unable to convert on the man advantage. After a terrible start to their playoffs, Nashville was unable to make it to the final buzzer.
Ingram was tested in the second period but the young netminder handled both of the shots well. The Avalanche played at an excellent level and held the Preds off their feet for large stretches. Nashville took Nashville six minutes to get their first offensive shift. Kuemper failed to make any of their shots.
As the half-way point approached, the Predators began to settle into the game. Ingram was able track the puck with ease on many looks from the Avs offense. After removing Mikko Ratanen from the scrum in front Ingram, Yakov Trenin went to the box at 13:10. The Predators were penalized for having too many players on the ice. This gave the Avs a five-on-3 advantage. The Predators' ice was taken by Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki and Mikael Granlund. However, a frenzy in front of the net led to Borowiecki kick the puck into his own net, giving Colorado an impressive 6-0 lead.
Nashville remained on the minor penalty kill bench. After playing four-on-four for two seconds, Nashville was awarded the man advantage. The Preds were unable to gain momentum on the power play due to Colorado's aggressive penalty kill.
Nashville had another chance at 18.32 when Bowen Byram was called to perform a cross-check. At 18:40, Matt Duchene helped the Preds get on the board.
Lehkonen chased Tomasino at the end of the period, and several Predators joined the fight to defend the rookie. After the scrums were separated by the referees, Lehkonen was taken after Tomasino and Josh Manson were given ten-minute misconduct penalties. Manson was also called for roughing. The third period would be started by Nashville on the power play.
In the final period, the Predators won the man advantage and took the ice. Nashville struggled to set up and didn’t register any shots in the two minute period. The ice quickly turned in Colorado's favor and the Avs put pressure on Ingram and the precarious Predators defense. Nathan MacKinnon's shot at 6:03 was redirected by a Nashville Predator past Connor Ingram, giving the Avs a 7-1 advantage.
Yakov Trenin was tripped at 7:23. This set up an effective Avs power play. Colorado was in possession and peppered for 2 minutes. But, they didn't score the man advantage.
The crowd at Ball Arena cheered "Duchene sucks!" Duchene sucks! Granlund handed the puck up ice at Duchene, who lifted it past Kuemper at 12.26.
Halfway through the final period, Predators began to check, but it was too little too late. At 15:54, a fracas broke out between Matthieu Olivier and Gabriel Landeskog. Each player was given two minutes to rough, but Olivier grabbed Nazem Kasri as he started the ice and received a ten-minute game misconduct. After a scuffle, Ryan Johansen was followed by Cale Makar.
The final minutes were thankfully short and the Predators were finally put out of their misery after a disastrous start to the round one playoff series.
The result can be disastrous when the highest-ranked Avalanche play their best game, while the lowest-ranked Preds turn up and play their worst hockey of season. The Colorado Avalanche are so well-equipped that they came out with all their guns blazing. Nashville might have been able to recover from the first period goals if they had played true to their identity. Instead, they played some the worst hockey they've seen in years. It was going to be difficult for Nashville, even on its best days, to beat a team like Colorado. Their first period of play was simply awful.
The Predators didn't have much physicality in this game. Nashville is well-known for its hard-hitting, physical, and rigorous game. Colorado was the team that played to this identity tonight. Nashville lost in the first half to Colorado. I was shocked by the physicality displayed by the Avs.
When the rest of Nashville plays so badly, it doesn't really matter who is in Nashville's net. With Saros in net, would this have resulted in a different score? Probably. This game could have been won by Saros, despite the team's poor defense and an inept offense. If Nashville wants to avoid being swept by an extremely talented and hot Avalanche squad, they will need to make significant changes before game two.