Nashville Predators (Central – 1) vs Colorado Avalanche (Wildcard – 2)
Nashville swept the four-game season-series over the Avalanche in 2017-18.
The Preds took game one with a score of 4-1. Roman Josi returned to the lineup after a minor injury, and his presence was felt early with a powerplay goal. Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson also scored for Nashville as they cruised their way to an easy victory.
Nashville again seemed to find a comfortable win in game two with a 5-2 win in November. Craig Smith made a name for himself early in the year and scored on the power play in the first period adding to his impressive totals. Pekka Rinne made 29 saves as again Nashville found their way to a 5-2 win over a hot Avs team.
The third match-up was a bit closer as the Preds had to wait until OT to win by a score of 4-3. Colorado took a 3-2 lead in the second period off of a Mikko Rantanen goal, but Nashville came back late with a Ryan Ellis goal sending it to overtime. In OT Filip Forsberg scored one minute in, to capture what was then a franchise record 8th straight win for the Preds.
Nashville finished off the series with a 4-2 victory in mid-March. The Predators clinched their playoff spot with this win. Colton Sissons and Filip Forsberg both scored two goals each. The team received an above average performance from backup goaltender Juuse Saros who made 33 saves on 35 shots to send Nashville to the playoffs.
Nashville Predators – 53-18-11
The Predators finished as the best team in the league finishing with the most points in franchise history with 117 points (53-18-11). The Predators finished in the top 10 in goals for per game with an average of 3.17. They were also one of the better defensive teams this year only giving up an average of 2.49 goals per game, the second-best in the league.
Nashville is stocked with quality depth players up and down the line-up. They have six players with 50 or more points on the season: Craig Smith (50), Roman Josi (53), Ryan Johansen (53), P.K. Subban (59), Filip Forsberg (61) and Viktor Arvidsson (61).
Having two quality goaltenders is going to be a huge backbone for the defending Western Conference Champions. Pekka Rinne finished 3rd in the league in wins with 41. He also finished with a .927 SV% and a 2.32 GAA finishing in the top five in the league amongst starters.
Jusse Saros as a backup to Rinne has been a solid stud. He’s put up 11 wins and .925 SV% with a GAA of 2.44 in 23 games started.
The Predators are the most dependable all-around team not just in the West, but in the NHL. Having almost gone the distance last year, plus the quality of depth they possess, I feel like they can be the team to come out of the west.
They know how to make it out of the conference and will have something to prove with how last year ended for them. Not to mention the fact they have a healthy Ryan Johansen this time around, which could be all difference they need to make another run.
Colorado Avalanche – 43-30-9
The Avalanche clinched the final playoff spot in the West with a 5-2 win over the Blues on Sunday. They were the most shocking team this year outside of the expansion Golden Knights. The Avs were the worst team in the NHL last year with only 48 points on the season.
In 2017-18, Colorado ultimately turned things around finishing with 95 points (43-30-9). They finished in the top 10 with a goal-for average of 3.11. They also had the 8th best power play in the league at 21.9%. Add that to holding the 4th best penalty kill at 83.3%. In 2016-17 they held the league’s worst powerplay at 12.6% and the second worst penalty kill at 76.6%.
Despite having that massive turn around, the Avs gave up the 5th most shots against this year with a 33.3 per-game average. In tandem, they also generated the second fewest shots for with a per-game average of 29.7.
After the team traded Matt Duchene to the Senators in a three-team deal, Nathan MacKinnon had the best year of his career. He finished 5th in scoring this year with 97 points (39G-58A), all career highs.
Outside of MacKinnon the Avs don’t have a ton of firepower. Gabriel Landeskog is the next best for them finishing 63rd with 62 points (25G-37A). One other surprise for Colorado was the play of rookie Alexander Kerfoot. After playing for Harvard for four years, Kerfoot put up 43 points (19G-24A) in his rookie campaign.
Goaltending hasn’t been much of an issue for Colorado this year, with them getting decent play out of both Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier. However, with Varlamov out for the rest of the season with a lower-body injury, added to defensemen Erik Johnson out as well with a fractured patella the back end for Colorado could be their downfall.
The Avalanche have been a great story this year, and while I love to see this kind of turn-around, it’s hard to imagine them getting by the Predators.
My Prediction: Nashville in 4 games.