DENVER (AP) — Colorado had speed and youth. Nashville brought experience and know-how.
It was plain to see which won out — this time.
Mattias Ekholm ignited the offense early with the first goal by a Nashville defenseman in the series, Pekka Rinne stopped 22 shots and the top-seeded Predators advanced to the second round with a 5-0 victory over the Avalanche in Game 6 on Sunday night.
Austin Watson , Filip Forsberg , Nick Bonino and Viktor Arvidsson also scored to help the Predators move on to face Winnipeg. They were 3-1-1 against the Jets in the regular season.
“I’m very impressed the way (the Avalanche) played. They played very modern hockey, with a lot of speed,” said Rinne, who notched his fourth career postseason shutout as the Predators won the series 4-2. “Great game. Great team effort. We didn’t give them any life.”
Nashville removed any sort of drama with two goals in the opening period and two more in the second to hush the capacity crowd. That’s the sort of game plan the Predators envisioned.
“I think that was our best game from start to finish,” Watson said. “That’s good for us going forward, to be able to take the last game of this series and carry that into how we want to play in the next one.”
Andrew Hammond ran out of magic in net, allowing five goals. The third-string goaltender nicknamed “Hamburglar” had 44 saves during a Game 5 win in Nashville to extend the series. But he couldn’t turn back a formidable Nashville offense that won a second straight playoff contest in Denver. Before this, the Avalanche hadn’t lost two straight at the Pepsi Center since early December.
“It’s disappointing to us and I’m sure it’s disappointing to fans,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It means a lot to us that they did give us a standing ovation at the end.”
Watson tormented Colorado with four goals and seven points in the series. In all, 11 of Nashville’s forwards had at least a point over six games.
The one thing missing was contributions from a blue line that tied a franchise record for goals during the regular season. The Predators ‘D’ was held scoreless until Ekholm’s slap shot at 7:20.
Forsberg scored 38 seconds into second to give Nashville a 3-0 lead and completely drain the energy out of the arena. Bonino added another to go with his two assists.
The closest Colorado came to scoring on Rinne was in the second period, when Nikita Zadorov sent in a shot, but it was waved off due to goaltender interference on Carl Soderberg.
“Every line that went out there took a lot of pride in playing good defense, even at the end with the game 5-0. We still protected the net,” Rinne said. “Guys wanted to get me that shutout.”
It was quite a bounce-back season for Colorado, which boasts one of the youngest teams in the league. The Avalanche went from a 48-point team in 2016-17 to 95 points this season, earning the last playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. The Avs are the first NHL team to post that sort of turnaround from one full season to the next since Pittsburgh also jumped 47 points in 2005-06 (58) to ’06-07 (105).
“There are a lot of positives for sure,” said Nathan MacKinnon, who was held to one shot Sunday. “Everybody thought we weren’t going to make it, that we were going to be the odd-team-out in the West. Obviously, it’s nice to prove some people wrong and have a good young team going forward.”
In the handshake line after the game, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette had some encouraging words for MacKinnon.
“He thought our team was up-and-coming, similar to their team,” MacKinnon recounted. “Definitely, it’s a good team to be compared to.”
Colorado ran into a Predators squad that looked every bit like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final a season ago and won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. They’re clicking on all cylinders heading into the Winnipeg series.
“These guys have been flying around for six games, playing really fast hockey,” Forsberg said. “We’ve been trying to play as fast as we can as well. If we can bring that speed into the next round that will be good.”
NOTES: The Predators improved to 6-6 all-time in a Game 6 situation. … F Colton Sissons had two assists. … RW Ryan Hartman was a scratch after being suspended for Game 5 for a hit on Soderberg. … D P.K. Subban had high praise for MacKinnon: “My expectations for him as a player is to be a Hall of Famer by the end of his career.”
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