Avalanche vs. Predators: 3 Things to Know about First Round series

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Monday, May 2. Next up, we preview the First Round series between the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators.

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. NASHVILLE PREDATORS schedule

Game 1: May 3, 9:30 p.m. ET – Predators at Avalanche (ESPN, SNE, SN360 [JIP], TVA Sports)
Game 2: May 5, 9:30 p.m. ET – Predators at Avalanche (TNT, SNE, SN360 [JIP], TVA Sports)
Game 3: May 7, 4:30 p.m. ET – Avalanche at Predators (TNT, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)
Game 4: May 9, 9:30 p.m. ET – Avalanche at Predators (ESPN, SN1, TVA Sports)
*Game 5: May 11, TBD – Predators at Avalanche (TBD)
*Game 6: May 13, TBD – Avalanche at Predators (TBD)
*Game 7 May 15, TBD – Predators at Avalanche (TBD)

1. Both the Avalanche and Predators stumbled down the stretch

While the Blues and Wild finished their seasons red-hot, the Avalanche and especially the Predators stumbled.

The Avalanche lost six of their last seven games, with five of those losses happening during regulation. One of the Avalanche’s losses happened against the Predators in a shootout.

That said, it’s less concerning when you consider how little the Avs had to play for. Colorado clinched home-ice advantage in the West with about two weeks left in the season. It’s simply not as easy to go full-speed when the worst-case scenario is “the Panthers would play Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final series at home if the top teams in each conference actually get all the way there for once.”

Of course, finishing strong still feels more promising. Also, the Avalanche didn’t rest players as aggressively as the Panthers, which is curious since Colorado’s dealt with years of serious injury headaches.

[3 Things to Know about Oilers vs. Kings]

Although the Avalanche’s struggles are notable, it’s more troubling that the Predators were hit-or-miss down the stretch. In their last 12 games, the Predators only won four times. Nashville only managed one of those wins during regulation.

Squandering a 4-0 lead against the lowly Coyotes can’t be the biggest confidence-booster.

That said, the Predators have been in scrappy mode for a while now, so maybe they’ll be more used to playoff-style desperation than the Avalanche?

2. The Predators are unlikely to have Juuse Saros — or at least a healthy Saros?

Sometimes, playoff X-factors can sneak under the radar. Other times, the pivotal force is simple. On paper, it sure seems like the Predators will need otherworldly goaltending to beat the Avalanche.

With Juuse Saros, it would be easier to imagine Nashville pulling off a monumental upset. Unfortunately, the Predators’ rolled the dice by dressing key players like Saros deep into the season, and they paid when the workhorse goalie suffered an injury.

Perhaps Saros can suit up sometime during this First Round series. That said, there’s a difference between playing and being able to play at a high level.

Few, if any, goalies match Juuse Saros athleticism. He’s one of the few smaller goalies who thrives in the modern NHL. Yet, in the likely event that he’d be hobbled by a lower-body injury (some believe to be ankle-related), it would be a leap to expect much out of him.

Most likely, the Predators must mull over choices of David Rittich, Connor Ingram, and … a goalie behind door number 3?

What seemed like the Predators’ best chance at a playoff series advantage is now another plus for the Avalanche, who have a solid duo in Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz.

(Granted, the Avs are no stranger to goalies getting hurt during the playoffs, Francouz included.)

3. Time for some heavy hockey?

While the Predators received a sensational season from Roman Josi, plus fantastic years from Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, they may view “heavy hockey” as their best way to upset the Avalanche.

Perhaps it’s just the default. Nashville was often nasty this season, leading the NHL with 1,035 penalty minutes (Tampa Bay was second with 901; Colorado sat 12th with 742). The Predators ended up with 61 major penalties, almost doubling the second-place Wild (36).

Playing a physical style can be dangerous against a team as explosive as the Avs. That said, maybe the Predators can agitate Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, and other fiery Avalanche players?

They might at least try. After all, few teams would be wise to try to “out-skill” the top team in the West.

Prediction: Predators steal one win, but Avalanche end series by Game 5.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.