The Avalanche came out and gave Nashville their best shot on Thursday night, but it wasn’t enough.
Three third-period goals by the Predators turned out to be the difference as they took the early series lead with a 5-2 victory over the Avalanche. The two teams matched up evenly through two periods, but Nashville was the top team in the NHL for a reason, and they showed why when the game was on the line.
The start to Thursday’s game went about as well as the Avalanche could have hoped. After getting some chances early on, Nikita Zadorov joined the rush, took a pass from Mikko Rantanen, and blasted a shot past Pekka Rinne to give the Avs the early lead. The goal would calm down the roaring crowd in Nashville and give the Avalanche confidence as they would continue to push throughout the period, earning some chances on a pair of power plays late in the first, but Rinne stood tall in net, making tremendous saves on Tyson Jost and Gabriel Landeskog, and keeping the Avalanche from building upon their lead.
The first ten minutes of the second period were chaotic. A little over three minutes into the period, Austin Watson would put a shot on net from a poor angle and beat Jonathan Bernier on the short side to tie the game. The Avalanche would quickly respond, however. Just over a minute later, Carl Soderberg would take a pass and flip a wrist shot towards Rinne that teammate Blake Comeau would deflect past the Finnish goaltender. Just like that, the Avalanche were back on top, 2-1.
An offensive zone penalty and a failed clear would put the Predators right back into the game. After the Avalanche won the face-off in their zone, Mark Barberio failed to clear the puck twice, and on his second attempt, would give it right to the Predators. Only a few seconds later, Nashville’s Craig Smith would tie the game at 2-2. Both teams would trade chances throughout the period, with Mikko Rantanen getting the best one on a breakaway, but the athletic Rinne stretched just far enough to nick Rantanen’s shot with his skate to keep the game tied heading into the third.
In the third, Nashville showed why they won the President’s Trophy this season, and leading scorer Filip Forsberg would take over. After the Avalanche lost a face-off in their own zone, they were momentarily discombobulated, leading to a Roman Josi shot that was going a few feet wide of the net — until it was deflected by Forsberg into the wide-open part of the cage. His next goal, however, would show a little more skill. Heading down the ice, one-on-one against former teammate Samuel Girard, Forsberg would put the puck between his own legs and get around Girard, beating Bernier glove-side to extend the lead to two. An empty-net goal by Colton Sissons would seal the game for the Predators, giving them a dominant-looking score in a game that was anything but.
The Avalanche will need to bounce back on Saturday afternoon for Game Two. There were plenty of positives to take from tonight’s game, but against an elite team, the Avalanche can’t afford to make any mistakes. The game Saturday starts at 1:00 PM MST and will be broadcast on NBC.