Predators-Avalanche Preview: Anything Can Happen in the Playoffs, Right?
The Avalanche won’t be bothered by their slim chances against Nashville in the first round, as just making the playoffs is already a huge victory.
Meanwhile, the Predators are a steamroller that has only grown stronger as the season has progressed. After a middling start, the Preds really kicked things into gear around New Year’s Day, which just so happened to coincide with standout defenseman Ryan Ellis’ return from injury.
Look, this is still the NHL playoffs where you expect the unexpected, but everything would have to go wrong very quickly for the Predators not to advance. Nashville is the biggest series favorite since the Buffalo Sabres (-600 according to Sports Odds History) faced the New York Islanders in 2007. Buffalo won that series in five games.
Nashville Predators (-525) vs. Colorado Avalanche (+415)
Game 1: April 12 Colorado @ Nashville, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 2: April 14 Colorado @ Nashville, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Game 3: April 16 Nashville @ Colorado, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 4: April 18 Nashville @ Colorado, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN
*Game 5: April 20 Colorado @ Nashville, TBD
*Game 6: April 22 Nashville @ Colorado, TBD
*Game 7: April 24 Colorado @ Nashville, TBD
Betting Market: The Predators opened as a massive -400 favorite before quickly getting bet up to -525.
Setting the stage: After winning their first President’s Trophy in franchise history, the Predators couldn’t have asked for a better first-round opponent. Not only did they sweep the Avalanche in all four meetings this season, but they’ve won ten in a row against Colorado — a streak that dates back to March 2016. The Predators scored at least four goals in each of their victories this year, outscoring the Avs 17-8 in total.
Having said that, the Preds will not face Semyon Varlamov, who was in net for all four regular season meetings. Instead, they will face Jonathan Bernier, who has taken over for the injured Varlamov. Interestingly enough, Bernier faced the Predators as a member of the Ducks in last season’s playoffs after taking over in game 5 for the injured John Gibson. Bernier did not fare well against Nashville in that Western Conference Finals, allowing six goals on just 34 shots (82.3% save percentage) in two Anaheim losses.
In the other net, Pekka Rinne, who was fantastic during Nashville’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, will look to build on a Vezina-worthy season.
One thing the Avs have going for them is that they’ve been in playoff-mode for the last few weeks, clinching the final playoff berth in their last game of the season. However, the results haven’t necessarily been there for head coach Jared Bednar’s club. Colorado finished the season with only two wins in its final seven games, including an 0-4-1 record against playoff teams. — Stuckey
Metrics: Let’s just get right to the point. The Predators are much better than the Avalanche at just about everything.
At 5v5, it’s no contest. The Predators have the fourth-best Corsi For % (a barometer for possession that measures the amount of shot attempts for vs. shot attempts allowed at 5v5, also known as CF%), while the Avalanche rank in the league’s bottom third. In terms of actual shot attempts, the Predators generate plenty, while the Avs allow an ample amount. Expect to see plenty of rubber fired at the Colorado net throughout this series.
While the Predators are just ordinary at creating expected goals (xG), the Avalanche rank 30th in xGF per 60 minutes. That spells trouble against the best defense in the NHL. — Michael Leboff
Goaltending: Prior to last season, the hockey world pleaded with the Predators to hand Juuse Saros the keys to car, thinking that Pekka Rinne was on the wrong side of the mountain. Since then, Rinne has played lights out and just put together a season that will land him on the Vezina Trophy shortlist. In 59 appearances this season, Rinne posted a +13.07 Goals Saved Above Average and a 93.71 even strength save percentage, both of which rank in the top-five among goalies (min. 1,000 minutes played).
Jonathan Bernier has been around the block and is basically an average goaltender at this point. And his numbers reflect that notion. Any goalie can get hot and steal a series with a blood-and-thunder show, but the gap between an in-form Rinne and Bernier is wide. — Michael Leboff
Game 1 Trend: Nashville opened -265 in Game 1. Favorites of -250 or greater vs. a division opponent have gone 8-0 straight-up in the playoffs since 2005-06. — John Ewing
Player to Watch (Nashville): The defensive core for the Predators is certainly impressive, but Filip Forsberg — fresh off a hat trick in the season finale — has the potential to take this series over offensively. He ranks in the 88th percentile in power-play shots over the past month. Nashville will need that volume against the league’s fourth-best penalty kill. He’s also not a one-man show, as his success directly correlates to his linemates Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. — Joe Holka
Player to Watch (Colorado): Nathan MacKinnon is deservedly in the Hart Trophy conversation, but he’s also a peripheral stat monster in DFS. He leads the Avalanche in shots+blocks (96th percentile), shots (99th), and power-play shots (91st). Further, Colorado is in a surprisingly decent macro spot against Nashville, which allowed the 11th most shots this season. After elevating his game from 16 goals to 39 this season, Colorado will go as far as MacKinnon can take them in this series. — Joe Holka
Why Nashville Should Win: Simply put, the Preds just need to do what they do, while avoiding disastrous mistakes. There’s no need to get too deep here, as Nashville has no excuse to come up short here. — Michael Leboff
Why Colorado Can Win: The Avalanche have the best player in this series in Nathan MacKinnon, who will need to carry Colorado, as he did throughout the regular season. It’s nearly impossible for one skater to win a series on his own, but that’s the most viable route here. Without herculean performances from MacKinnon and their journeyman goaltender, the Avs will be golfing in a few days. — Michael Leboff
Leboff — Predators in 4
Holka — Predators in 5
Stuckey — Predators in 4