NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Trailing 2-0 in its best-of-seven opening round series, a desperate Avalanche team returned to Colorado for its first home playoff game in four years Monday night. Not surprisingly, an energized Avs team put forth its best effort of the series in a 5-3 win over the top-seeded Predators.
Nashville wasn’t great in the first two games of the series at home, but survived. It was unable to overcome another lackluster performance on the road in a frustrating game three. Now the underdog Avalanche has a chance to make things even more interesting if it can bring a similar performance to game four tonight at 9 p.m.
Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
First and foremost to the Predators, who I don’t think took the Avalanche lightly for a second of this series, but for whatever reason have been unable to find the same level of desperation in their game that they played with throughout their incredible journey last spring.
Nashville better find another gear soon because the Avalanche are gaining confidence with each game, and the pressure will only grow on the favorites as this series goes along. The Predators know that, though. A big part of their historic success this season has come from self-policing when things go bad and fixing the problem the next time they hit the ice.
This is a team that gave up seven goals to last place Buffalo one night a couple weeks ago and came back and beat Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay 4-1 on the road less than 24 hours later. They can and will play better.
But Colorado is good. Oh yeah, let’s welcome the Avs and all their backers back to the playoffs as well. It’s been awhile. Four years to be exact and they delivered a fantastically loud Pepsi Center Monday night.
They have a lot of reasons to cheer. This is a fun, young team with elite speed and one of the league’s true superstars, Nathan MacKinnon, anchoring their top line.
So why does it seem that all the talk from Colorado is about the Predators “dirty play” as if being located a mile high makes Denver some kind of a hockey morale high ground?
This is what playoff hockey looks like, or have they forgotten?
These are the most intense, physical games of the year. The refs are more lenient and the shoves after the whistles increase as every inch of ice is fought for tooth and nail night in and night out.
This series hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary, despite the cries from the mountain media. No, Ryan Johansen’s hit on Tyson Barrie in game one wasn’t head hunting. It was incidental contact at worst. And P.K. Subban’s check/punch on MacKinnon in game three led to a minor penalty (on both guys after MacKinnon retaliated). The half-baked push from Colorado media to make either of those incidents a punishable offense was laughable.
This is now the Predators eighth playoff series over the last four years and this would rank no higher than the middle of the pack when it comes to physicality. Even Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar suggested Wednesday that the media had overblown the physical nature of this series.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Subban said Tuesday. “Nothing I haven’t seen done before.”
Except Colorado hasn’t seen this level of hockey for awhile. So, welcome back Avs backers.
But for your sake, hopefully the Predators win this series, because I’m pretty sure your columnists will run out of hot takes about what is and isn’t playoff hockey by the end of it.
Whether they like it or not, playoff hockey is different. Every shift, let alone game, is a battle, and desperation almost always trumps momentum.
Your Avalanche have been the more desperate team through three games, more than proving they belong. We’ll see if they can add even more intrigue to the series in game four or if the Predators can prove why so many believe they’re the Stanley Cup favorites.
That’s the real drama of the playoffs, so try to sit back and enjoy it for once.