DENVER (WTVF) — For a second straight game the top seed, Avalanche dominated the Predators in shots and chances. But unlike game one, this was no laugher. Connor Ingram's brilliant goaltending kept Nashville in it right up until Cale Makar's shot trickled between his pads 8:31 into overtime to give Colorado a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Ingram had never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before Thursday night, and had made only three regular-season starts, but the 25-year-old looked like a grizzled vet between the pipes in game two. He stopped all but two of the 51 shots he faced, helping a Nashville team that was outshot by 25, and now 96-51 for the series, to stay in the game and nearly pull off a stunner.
After losing game one 7-2, no one was giving the Predators a snowball’s chance against the Avalanche in game two, and it didn't look good early once again when Ingram let the first shot he saw from Nathan MacKinnon beat him just over five minutes into the game. MacKinnon took advantage of an aggressive pinch by Jeremy Lauzon, bursting into the attacking zone with a head of steam and then burying a wrister from the dot past Ingram.
But, unlike game one starter David Rittich, who allowed one goal to turn into five in a 15-minute span, Ingram kept his composure and dug his skates in against the high-powered Avalanche. The 25-year-old did his best Juuse Saros impression as he filled in for the injured star. He stopped the next 49 shots he faced, looking completely composed throughout, seemingly unaffected by the stage or the opponent.
In another difference from game one, the Predators had an answer to Colorado’s early surge. After weathering the initial storm, the Predators took momentum with a couple of nice saves from Ingram, including a glove snag of a J.T. Compher blast from the right dot on a two-on-one rush. Moments later Nashville got on the board as Yakov Trenin kept it himself and beat Darcy Kuemper's glove side to tie the game 1-1.
The Predators flirted with danger in the second period with three penalties in the first 10 minutes, but Ingram and a stingy penalty kill turned Colorado away at every turn. Each kill seemed to provide the visitors a bit of momentum and helped Ingram, who didn't even tell his parents who drove from Imperial, Saskatchewan to see the two games in Colorado that he was starting, grow in confidence.
Even when the Avalanche appeared to get a go-ahead goal in the final seconds of the period, when Valeri Nichushkin’s backhand found the back of the net, but the goal was immediately waved off because Artturi Lehkonen was in the crease. Avs coach Jared Bednar challenged that Lehkonen was pushed into Ingram, but replay upheld the call.
The lost challenge resulted in a power play, and set up the Predators' best chance to take a lead thus far in the series. With 1:56 of the penalty carrying over into the third period, Nashville was gifted a two-man advantage when Nichushkin was then sent to the box for a high stick of Ryan Johansen off the opening face-off.
But the Predators' power play, which was so good in the regular season, has been unable to find its footing so far in this series. Even with 1:52 of a 5-on-3 advantage, the Preds failed to light the lamp. In fact, the best chance came on a shorthanded attempt by the Avs that led to a glove save by Ingram.
It was a huge missed opportunity, and you can’t afford to miss opportunities when you are the No. 8 seed taking on the Stanley Cup favorites. From that point on the Avalanche were the aggressors, cycling and setting up shop in the attacking zone as the Preds failed to clear the puck or mount any significant counterattacks or offensive pressure.
But Ingram kept them in it with multiple kick saves and one terrific sprawling glove save. Yet as good as he was, the outcome felt inevitable considering the chances Colorado was creating.
The Avs kept the pressure on in overtime, nearly winning it as Nichushkin got a puck right in front of the net just a couple of minutes into extra time. But Predators star captain Roman Josi made a game-saving play to lock up Nichushkin's stick and keep him from being able to punch it home.
But it was only a matter of time. A few minutes later with Josi sprawling to the ice to block a shot, the rebound went right to the stick or Makar who fired a shot low through traffic. For seemingly the first time all night Ingram was unable to see through all the bodies and pick up the puck. By the time he located it, it was too late — the puck trickling through his five hole and into the net for the game-winner.
Ingram deserved a better fate for his efforts, but it's hard to make much of a case that this series should be anything other than 2-0 after the way Colorado dominated the play of the two games in its building. Perhaps the Predators will be able to turn the tables, just like they did a year ago in the first round against Carolina when they erased a 2-0 hole by winning games three and four at home, but if this season comes to its expected end over the next week to 10 days they'll look back on an opportunity lost in game two with Ingram standing on his head.
To beat a team the caliber of the Avalanche in a best-of-seven series, you need your goalie to steal a game or two. Ingram was good enough to do that Thursday night, but the Predators failed to take advantage.