NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche are happy they got a bit of a challenge before sweeping the Nashville Predators.
They actually had to rally for the first time in the first round.
Valeri Nichushkin scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:58 left, and the Avalanche became the first team to advance to the second round Monday night beating the Predators 5-3 Monday night.
“We found a way,” Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon said. “That’s the key. You can’t always win when you have your best, you have to find ways when you’re not. Tonight was one of those cases. We just know with all the skill and talent we have that we were going to get one.”
The Avalanche now are in the Western Conference semifinals for a fourth straight season and second consecutive after sweeping their first-round opponent. They improved to 6-0 since the franchise relocated to Denver in best-of-seven series after winning the first three games with their fourth sweep in that span.
They now get to wait for either St. Louis or Minnesota.
“The big thing is now we can take a breath, get a couple days off for our guys, give them some rest and we’ll still get some real good practice time before we get ready for our next opponent,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.
Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar each had a goal and two assists for Colorado, and Devon Toews added a goal. MacKinnon sealed the victory with an empty-net goal on the man advantage with 55.9 seconds remaining.
Yakov Trenin scored twice for Nashville, which was swept for the first time in franchise history in its 15th playoff appearance. Filip Forsberg scored his first of the series giving Nashville its first lead this series at 3:58 of the third, and it lasted less than 5 minutes.
“The fact that we weren’t able to win a game is something that we all take personal for sure,” Nashville coach John Hynes said.
Colorado scored three times over the final 11:05 to wrap up a series by outscoring Nashville 21-9. After Toews tied it 3-3 at 8:55 of the third, Nichushkin scored on a snap shot from the right circle to put the Avs ahead to stay.
The Predators had a few open seats midway into the first period. Not even having Walker Zimmerman, a defender for MLS’ Nashville SC, wave the pre-game rally towel helped.
Colorado wound up scoring on its first shot attempt of the game for the second time this series, even if replay was needed to call it a goal.
Burakovsky’s wrister sent the puck through the back net, a shot that had the Avalanche starting to celebrate before an official immediately waved it off During a stoppage at 1:56, officials reviewed the play and saw the puck go through the net needing an official to fix the net behind Predators rookie goalie Connor Ingram.
The rookie goalie had to make a save on a short-handed attempt by the Avs on Nashville’s first power play, and Colorado had two more shot attempts than the Predators. The Avs outshot Nashville 13-6 dominating the first until Trenin got his second of this series on a wrister from the slot with 61 seconds left in the period.
Makar put Colorado up 2-1 with a snap shot from near the blue line at 13:33 of the second, and he nearly scored again on a breakaway about 2 minutes later only to have Ingram stop the puck with his left pad.
“Anytime you get a chance to end a team’s season, you take it and run,” Makar said. “You try at least. For us tonight, there was a lot of ups and downs, but we wanted this one. I think just the resilience in general showed from our group.”
Trenin tied it again, this time with 3:11 left in the second. He spun in the right circle and fired a wrister past Pavel Francouz.
Forsberg scored into an open net behind Francouz off a cross-ice pass from Mattias Ekholm, giving Nashville a 3-2 lead in the third.
“You never want to go out 4-nothing,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. "It’s tough right now. ... I thought our two home games, we played a lot better. But yeah we didn't get it done. We didn’t get a win, so yeah it's definitely disappointing.”
The Avalanche also swept St. Louis in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, Vancouver in the Western quarterfinals in 2001 and the 1996 Stanley Cup Final against Florida.
NORRIS TROPHY FINALISTS
Josi and Makar were announced as finalists earlier Monday for the Norris Trophy. Josi won the Norris in 2020, and he posted the best scoring season since Phil Housley in 1992-93 with 96 points — a franchise record for the Predators.
Makar is a finalist for a second straight season. He led defensemen with 28 goals, and he became the eighth defenseman in NHL history with seven or more points through the first three games of a postseason and first since John Carlson also had seven in 2018. Now he has a league-high 10 points.
“He might be the best player in the league right now,” MacKinnon said of Makar.
MUSIC CITY FINALE?
Forsberg is in the final year of his contract, though Nashville hopes to sign him to a contract extension before free agency opens. Forsberg took an extra wide lap waving to fans after the handshake line before heading off the ice.
The Predators forward became the fourth NHL player in 26 years with multiple tying goals in an elimination game. Joel Kiviranta did it in Game 7 of the second round in 2020, Scott Hartnell in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with Philadelphia and Matt Cooke in Game 7 of the 2004 conference quarterfinal.
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