The Nashville Predators have spent the last two seasons reshaping the team’s identity — morphing from a franchise known for stingy defense and goaltending to one that tries to wear down opponents with tenacity and physicality.
However, therein lies the problem.
Nashville’s first-round playoff opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, will not easily bend to another’s will. Colorado’s mix of speed, skill and sheer relentlessness has forced the Predators out of their comfort zone.
And they know it.
“I think it’s important for us to get back to more the identity we played with where one of the strengths of our team is the ability to be able to win territory, control territory, the way that we can forecheck, the way that we can pressure in the offensive zone,” Predators coach Jon Hynes said ahead of tonight's Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena (8:30 CST). “They’re a very good offensive team, so if you can’t sustain that pressure, they’re able to get out of their zone easier and there’s a lot of rush opportunities there.”
Through the first three games of their opening-round series — all Avalanche wins — the Predators have taken 18 penalties, allowed six power play goals and have 18 giveaways to Colorado’s 13.
The Avalanche lead in scoring chances for (95 to 50) and high-danger chances for (37-27). And they’ve outshot the Predators 138-81, making it difficult for Nashville to assert its grind-you-into-submission style of play with goaltenders Connor Ingram and David Rittich constantly under siege.
Letting Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog fire away on the power play doesn’t help matters either.
“We've got to be better on the power play, and be better on the penalty kill,” captain Roman Josi said after Saturday’s Game 3 loss. “Special teams are always a big factor. To [stay] out of the box is always a big factor."
The Predators have played with their backs against the wall essentially since the All-Star break. Nashville, which once had the best record in the Western Conference, went 17-16-3 over the second half of the season and sat idly by as Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas forged ahead in the Central Division standings.
Nashville was just 0.1 seconds away from locking up the first wild card spot against the Calgary Flames on April 26.
The Predators had that same opportunity two games later but blew a 4-0 lead to the last-place Arizona Coyotes in the regular-season finale, and suddenly instead of playing Calgary in Round 1 — a team they beat twice in three tries during the regular season, and a team that their physical style of play worked well against — the team was forced to go through West’s top team.
Nashville had never been down 3-0 in a series in franchise history until Saturday’s 7-3 loss. While the likelihood of the Predators reeling off four straight wins over the top-seeded Avalanche is slim at best, Hynes has been trying to keep his players focused on the fact that they can’t win four games in one.
"You have to win one," he said. "I think when you look at it right now, we've got a group that's been resilient. We know what it is. We know we're in a series, and you're not out of a series until it hits four. So, our objective isn't where it's going. We have to rest and recover and regroup a little bit.”
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