NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Before they boarded the plane for Colorado on Sunday the Predators wanted to make it clear they know the Avalanche will be desperate in game three, and that they will be ready to match their intensity and focus when the puck drops shortly after 9 P.M. Central tonight.
The Predators won the first two games of their first round Western Conference playoff series on home ice and can take a commanding lead in the series with a win in game three. But they expect to see the best effort yet from an Avs team that has its back against the wall.
"The minute you start to feel good or like things are going your way, that's usually when you get beat," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think part of it is just recognizing, it's not that you can't win or you can't be successful, but you have to understand where you're opponent's at and where we need to be."
Colorado is one of the youngest teams in the NHL and nearly doubled it's point total from last season to this season to make the playoffs. Despite its youth, the Avalanche have acquitted themselves well against the President's Trophy champions, and the Predators know they will be a confident group returning to their home arena.
"Those first two games were really competitive, really tight," Predators captain Roman Josi said. "We're in a good spot winning the two home games, but we know they're going to play even better at home."
TOP LINE BATTLE
The Avalanche have one of the best top lines in the NHL with the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen combining for 243 points in the regular season. But the Predators have gotten the better of them so far in this series thanks to a team effort.
The Predators started the series with their own top line matched up against them, but quickly switched to a better checking line midway through game one. The trio of Nick Bonino, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons not only have slowed the Avs' stars down, they've actually outscored them 7-6, including two goals from Watson.
Being freed up of their defensive responsibility against the Avs' top line, the Predators top line has also flourished. Filip Forsberg scored two goals in the third period of game one as Nashville pulled away for a 5-2 win. Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen both scored goals in the 5-4 victory in game two.
But now Colorado will have the opportunity to make last change on their home ice, meaning the Predators will have a harder time matching up the Bonino, Watson, Sissons line against MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen. Laviolette hopes his team's balance through it's lines will allow them to match up no matter who is on the ice against the Avs' stars.
"We've got six capable defensemen, we've got four lines that we can roll and wherever it goes it goes," Laviolette said.
Part of the job of slowing down the Avalanche's explosive stars has been the job the Predators have done against one of the best power play units in the league.
Colorado is just 1-for-8 on power play chances in the first two games with the lone goal coming on a 5-on-3 opportunity in game two. The Predators have actually outscored the Avalanche 2-1 on the power play so far in the series.
The Predators had seven penalties in game two. It was a continuation of a frustrating trend for the team that led the league in penalties this season.
They know they need to be more disciplined in the playoffs, and that they are playing with fire going to the box against a team like the Avalanche.
"Obviously, our main goal is to stay out of the box and stay disciplined," Josi said. "They have a really good power play, but I think we've done a great job on the penalty kill so far. And obviously Pekka's been great in net and he's always our best penalty killer."
Game three will mark the first road game of the postseason for a Predators team that posted the best record away from home in the NHL this season.
Nashville went 25-9-7 on the road this season, including a pair of wins in Denver. The Preds have won 12 straight games overall against the Avalanche dating back to March of 2016. Five of those games have come in the Pepsi Center.
Of course it won't be easy. Colorado boasts one of the league's best home records. The Avalanche went 28-11-2 in Denver this season, including 18-4-2 since January 1st.
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