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.
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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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.