After losing the previous twelve meetings with the Nashville Predators, the Colorado Avalanche were finally able to take down the President’s Trophy winners by a 5-3 final score in Game Three of the opening playoff round.
The win puts the series at 2-1 in Nashville’s favor, but gives the Avalanche some hope in their ability to potentially advance to the second round. “It gets us right back into things,” Gabe Landeskog said. “Climbing out of two-to-nothing is a big difference from oh-and-three.”
The game was Colorado’s first playoff game since 2014, and based off of the atmosphere set by the sellout crowd, the city of Denver had missed playoff hockey. The crowd’s energy was then matched by the Avalanche right out of the gate. “The crowd was outstanding,” alternate captain Blake Comeau said following the win. “It gave a lot of guys chills skating around, coming out on the ice. We’ve played really well at home all season, and the crowd’s a big reason for that.”
In each of the first two games of the series, Colorado got out of the first period with a one-goal lead but was unable to maintain those leads throughout the contests. Monday night at Pepsi Center the Avs ensured that wouldn’t be the case, scoring three goals before the first intermission.
The first goal was from Blake Comeau’s, who scored from in front of the net on a redirection from a Carl Soderberg pass from the corner. Comeau’s goal came only 1:50 into the game, fueling the already rambunctious home crowd. “We had another good start tonight, and we were able to stick with that for the rest of the game,” Comeau said. “You know, we did a good job tonight of having everyone contribute, some big key saves by [Jonathan Bernier].”
Gabriel Bourque then added his second goal of the playoffs to make it a 2-0 game after battling hard to dig the puck out from behind the net and redirecting a Patrik Nemeth shot from the point.
Following Bourque’s goal, the physical play and post-whistle shenanigans that are typical with playoff hockey were underway as the Predators looked to bully their way back in the game. “Some of their guys, that’s the way they play,” Landeskog explained. “They want to play after whistles — and not in between — and we are kind of the opposite. We are going to try and stay out of that and keep working hard. Whether that gets under their skin or not, it doesn’t matter to us. We are going to keep playing hard.”
The Avalanche didn’t back down and continued the high-tempo hockey they had played from the start. Nathan MacKinnon added the third goal of the period and his second of the playoffs with 1:53 remaining in the first. The goal was created from a superb pass from Gabe Landeskog that led MacKinnon into the offensive zone and all alone on a breakaway. MacKinnon beat Rinne glove-side.
MacKinnon wasn’t finished scoring, however. At 4:25 into the second period, he picked up a loose puck in the middle of the slot and went post-and-in on Pekka Rinne, ending the Predators’ goaltender’s night when he was replaced by backup Juuse Saros.
The Predators found some life after the goaltending switch, and halfway through the second period, they were finally able to get on the scoreboard when Ryan Johansen capitalized on a five-on-three power-play opportunity.
Johansen’s goal made the score 4-1 and it would be the final scoring play of the period, but there was no loss of intrigue as the post-whistle scrums and undisciplined penalties were constant. “We’ve got to make sure we are using the emotions of the crowd and the game in the right way,” Comeau said. “I think we’ve got to stay a little more disciplined moving forward, but for the most part tonight we did a good job of feeding off the crowd in a positive way.”
“When you play each other so many times in a row, that’s the way it’s going to go. It’s playoff time and you start to build a bit of a rivalry with each other.”
The 4-1 lead heading into the third period wasn’t as comfortable for Colorado as one would expect. The chippy play stopped and Nashville began to push. A Colton Sissons goal on a two-on-one about eight minutes in made it a 4-2 hockey game, and the Avalanche had to continue to ward off the Predators’ offense.
“Even when they were scoring goals, we were saying the right things on the bench and staying focused,” Avalanche defenseman Mark Barberio said.
The ability to stay focused was vital for the Avs as they were able to keep Nashville from scoring during their final push, and Gabe Landeskog was able to add an empty-net goal with 2:36 to play.
The Predators tallied one more goal just 21 seconds later, but by then it was ‘garbage time’ and the Avalanche sat comfortably with their 5-3 lead and their first victory of the 2018 playoffs.
A pivotal Game Four will be played on Wednesday evening at Pepsi Center with the puck dropping at 8:00 PM Mountain.