The Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators met at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Monday night for Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. It was a do-or-die game for the Predators, who were trailing the Avalanche 3-0 in their best-of-seven contest.
The Predators played their best game of the series, taking the lead in the third period, the team’s only lead in the four games, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the juggernaut that is the Avalanche. A game-tying goal from defenseman Devon Toews and a game-winner from Valeri Nichushkin secured the series sweep for Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Predators 5-3 and now advance to the second round of the playoffs. Here are four takeaways from the game.
Avalanche Defense Continues Its Dominance
Picking up where they left off in the regular season, Avalanche defenders made their presence known in this series. In addition to the goal from Toews, his linemate and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar had a goal and an assist in the game. The goal was Makar’s third of the playoffs, and the assist, a brilliant seeing-eye pass on the tape of Nichushkin’s stick, gave him his 10th point of the postseason, which leads the team.
Toews led the team with 26:02 of ice time (TOI), followed closely by Makar, who had 25:10. The only player with more TOI was Nashville’s Roman Josi also a Norris Trophy finalist – Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning is the third and final Norris Trophy finalist.
The Avalanche defense surrendered only nine goals in the series. The only teams to surrender fewer goals this postseason are the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames, who have surrendered seven goals each in their four games. That series is knotted at two games apiece.
Avalanche Special Teams Shine
The Avalanche had only two power plays in the game, converting on one of them. The goal — an empty-net tally scored by Nathan MacKinnon, who already has five postseason goals this year — came with less than two minutes in the game after Nashville had pulled its goalie Connor Ingram. Colorado’s power play was dominant throughout the series, with the team scoring on a league-leading 43.8 percent of their opportunities.
Equally impressive was Colorado’s penalty kill, especially in Game 4. They were only called for two penalties, but one of them came with just over 10 minutes left to play with the score tied. Had the Predators found the back of the net in those two minutes, they might have used the momentum to carry the team to victory and send the series back to Colorado. Instead, the Avalanche penalty killers slammed the door, preventing the power play from getting a single shot on goal when they needed one the most. In fact, the Avalanche had two shots on goal during that final third-period power play.
O Holey Net
Just when you thought you’d seen it all in the NHL, Andre Burakovsky ripped a shot from the right faceoff circle that seemed to beat Ingram. He raised his hands in triumph, but the horn didn’t sound, and the puck was suddenly behind the net. The teams played on for almost a full minute until the next whistle.
With the stoppage in play, the referees consulted the video replay to see what had happened. The puck did beat Ingram over his shoulder and then snapped the twine and went through the back of the net. It was a freak play the likes of which this writer has never seen. The goal was the first of the game, giving Colorado a 1-0 lead.
MacKinnon and Makar: Two for the Ages
Hockey fans everywhere are getting to see not only two of the game’s best players but also two of the best postseason players in NHL history. Nathan MacKinnon, whose five goals are tied for best in the postseason so far, is third on the all-time list for points-per-game in the playoffs among skaters who have played at least 50 games. His 1.39 points-per-game average is bested only by Hall-of-Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who rank one and two on that list, respectively. Makar recently called MacKinnon the “best player in the world.”
Speaking of Makar, his average of 1.05 points per game is second all-time among defensemen who have started at least 30 games. Topping that list is Hall-of-Famer Bobby Orr. His two goals in Monday night’s game moved him past Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch, at least for now.
Perhaps the most impressive stat is that Makar is only 23 years old, and MacKinnon is only 26. There’s a lot of hockey left to play for these two, and to be sure, they will need to win a championship or two to occupy the same rarified air as the five players mentioned above. But if they stay healthy, you have to believe the sky’s the limit for them both.
Up Next for the Avalanche
The Avalanche will now get several days off, giving key players time to rest, most notably Darcy Kuemper, the team’s number one goaltender. He took an errant stick through the cage of his mask, sending him to the dressing room in Game 3. They now await the winner of the series between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild, which is tied at two games apiece.