EditorsNote: Update 2: Adds quotes from MacKinnon and Watson
It took a bit longer than many pundits anticipated, but the Nashville Predators are moving on to the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Nick Bonino enjoyed the first three-point game of his playoff career Sunday while Pekka Rinne stopped 22 shots for his fourth postseason shutout as Nashville routed the Colorado Avalanche 5-0 at Pepsi Center in Denver, clinching a 4-2 win in the teams’ Western Conference quarterfinal.
The result sets up a monstrous matchup, at least on paper, in the conference semifinals. The Predators, who won the Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points, will face the Winnipeg Jets and their 114 regular-season points. Game 1 will be sometime late next week in Tennessee.
“Well we had some good battles with them during the regular season,” Nashville left winger Austin Watson said of the Jets. “They’ve got size, they’ve got speed, they’ve got some really good goal-scorers up front. Obviously (forward Patrik) Laine’s one of the best. They’re just a really great team overall. (Winnipeg goalie Connor) Hellebuyck, up for the Vezina as well. So we’re going to have our homework to do when we get out of here. We’ll enjoy it for a bit and get ready for them.”
Pushed throughout this series by a Colorado team that overcame a handful of key injuries to be a worthy opponent, the Predators displayed the form in the clincher that made them the NHL’s best team during the regular season.
Just 16 seconds after Colton Sissons’ goal was waved off for goaltender interference by Kyle Turris, Nashville scored one that couldn’t be erased. Mattias Ekholm became the Predators’ first defenseman to tally in the series with a slapper from the left circle at 7:02 of the first period.
Austin Watson made it 2-0 at 10:19 of the first. Sissons beat Avalanche goalie Andrew Hammond but not the left post. Watson collected the rebound and shoveled it into a vacated net for his fourth goal of the series.
“It feels good to chip in during the playoffs,” said Watson, who tied Sissons for the team lead with seven points in the series. “Just myself, (Bonino) and (Sissons), we’ve got good chemistry, we play well together, and we were able to capitalize on some of our chances.”
Filip Forsberg upped the margin to three just 38 seconds into the second period. On a two-on-one rush with Viktor Arvidsson, Forsberg flicked a wrister from the left circle that squeezed between Hammond’s left arm and side for his fourth goal of the series.
Bonino, who drew assists on the first two goals, potted his second goal of the series at 8:26 of the middle period. Teed up in the slot by a Calle Jarnkrok pass, Bonino hit a wrister that deflected off Hammond and trickled over the goal line.
Any long-shot hopes of an Avalanche comeback concluded at 2:36 of the third period when Arvidsson scored on a breakaway for his second marker of the series.
Hammond, who made 44 saves Friday night as Colorado took a 2-1 victory in Game 5, wasn’t quite as sharp this game. He finished with 32 stops.
Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said, “I thought we came out with some jump, but they got two quick goals that just deflated us. Then they got a quick goal in the second period that ruined our momentum. I thought Game 5 was great to get us a Game 6, but obviously, tonight was pretty bad.”
Watson said of the Avalanche, “Not that they didn’t have it before, but they completely earned my respect and ours. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series, but the way these guys battled from start to finish every game — they’re going to be a good team for a long time, and hats off to them.”
—Field Level Media