Predators look to go up 3-0 on Avalanche
The Nashville Predators are right where they are supposed to be.
The pick by many to win the Stanley Cup in June, the President's Trophy winners are up 2-0 on Colorado in the first-round series and heading to Denver to finish off the pesky Avalanche.
While the series looks lopsided, it's a lot closer than the 2-0 advantage. Colorado has led in both games and nearly rallied to force overtime in Saturday's 5-4 Nashville win. Despite mounting injuries, the Avalanche are confident heading home, where they have won 28 games this season.
Still, the sting of losing both games in Nashville lingers for eighth-seeded Colorado ahead of Monday's Game 3.
"We played hard, but we lost, so it doesn't really matter. It's tough," center Nathan MacKinnon, who had a goal and an assist to give him three points in the series, told reporters after Saturday's loss. "I thought we played two pretty good games here in Nashville, and we couldn't get a win."
MacKinnon has been productive despite his line -- which includes Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog -- being the focus of the Predators' defense. He had 97 points in the regular season and is a serious Hart Trophy candidate as the NHL MVP, and he hasn't slowed down in the postseason.
"Oh man, he's special," Predators forward Austin Watson told The Tennessean. "I mean, you don't have the year he had this year without being a pretty incredible player. And just his line as a whole, they play the game with so much speed, you can't get caught standing still.
"I mean, if you are, they'll blow right around you. Even if you think you're doing a good job on them, you can't really take your foot off the gas at all or they'll turn it back on you and get chances."
The Predators have some special players, too, including Filip Forsberg, who scored a highlight-reel goal in Game 1. Nashville won't take Colorado lightly because it knows how dangerous a No. 8 seed can be. The Predators reached the Cup finals last year as the eighth seed in the West.
But Nashville has a healthy squad that has won 12 straight against Colorado dating back to the end of the 2015-16 season. The Avalanche, on the other hand, are playing without No. 1 defenseman Erik Johnson, top goaltender Semyon Varlamov and may not have rookie defenseman Samuel Girard for Game 3.
Girard was scratched from Game 2 with an upper-body injury and his status for Monday's Game 3 is not known.
Both teams are hoping for a cleaner game in Denver. Game 2 was cluttered with 14 penalties -- seven for each team -- which might have been a result of Nashville center Ryan Johansen's hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 1.
The Avalanche felt Johansen should have been suspended but the league didn't agree. One thing that came out of it was a rivalry was born.
Nashville's goal is to get the series over quickly. A win in Game 3 will make it nearly impossible for Colorado to win the series, and the young team knows it.
"There's definitely no quit on their side," Johansen Saturday. "That's with every team in the playoffs, but they play desperate, they play fast, they've got a lot of young skill over there. We've got to make sure we close out games better."
Updated April 15, 2018