DENVER – For the Nashville Predators, it served as a tune-up for a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with Detroit Red Wings. For the Colorado Avalanche, it marked the end of another disappointing season.
The Predators routed the Avalanche 6-1 Saturday night at the Pepsi Center in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Predators clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in their series with the Red Wings earlier in the day when Detroit lost 3-2 in a shootout to Chicago.
"Huge," said center Craig Smith, who had a goal and two assists against the Avalanche after sitting out six of the previous seven games as a healthy scratch. "We were able to relax a little bit. We knew this game was important for us as a group to make sure we were going into the playoffs strong, but it's always nice when you have that comfort.
"This was a good win. I thought everyone played well. We're excited where we're at and how we're going into the playoffs."
Nashville finished with a 48-26-8 record and 104 points -- 26-10-5 at home and 22-16-3 on the road. The Predators went 3-3-0 against the Red Wings during the season, with 3-2 and 4-1 wins in the last two meetings.
The NHL will announce the playoff schedule Sunday.
"The good thing is we've seen the Red Wings quite a bit," Smith said. "We know what their tendencies are and we're going to be ready for them. We have to buckle down. They're a puck possession team and if we can establish a good defensive game, that'll provide more offense for us."
The Avalanche, meanwhile, finished 11th in the West with a 41-35-6 record and 88 points – 22-17-2 at home and 19-18-4 on the road. Despite collecting 11 more wins and 20 more points than last season, Colorado missed the playoffs for the second year in a row and for the third time in four years.
While the Predators head into the postseason under a head of steam with six wins in the final eight games, the Avalanche limped into the offseason with a 1-5-1 record in the last seven games.
Nashville won all four games against the Avalanche this season and has beaten Colorado nine consecutive times since Jan. 22, 2010.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't make the playoffs," said Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk, who hasn't decided whether he wants to return for what would be his 14th NHL season. "Other than that, I'm trying to stay positive. I saw a lot of positives in this season. It definitely was way better than last year. We came up a little short, but there's a lot of good young players here and this team will only get better."
The Predators expected to give workhorse goalie Pekka Rinne the night off, but he relieved Anders Lindback at 2:14 of the third period. Lindback, who stopped 34 of 35 shots, fell into the crease after colliding with the Avalanche’s Cody McLeod while scrambling to get back to the net. Lindback was further shaken when teammate Ryan Ellis fell on top of him.
Despite the lopsided score, Predators coach Barry Trotz wasn't especially happy with how his team played. Lindback and Rinne had to play well because the Avalanche enjoyed a 45-29 advantage in shots.
"We gave up 45 shots," he said. "You don't want to go into the playoffs like that. We had some guys that took the night off, which I didn't like. We were a little bit too casual. I thought the big thing for me, the guys who hadn't been in the lineup really did a good job of making a case. To me, some guys put themselves in a position to either start the playoffs or be first up. And some guys put themselves a little bit back."
The Predators never looked back after skating to a 3-1 lead in the first period on goals by David Legwand, Craig Smith and Patric Hornqvist, who scored with one second left when he used the shaft of stick to deflect Kevin Klein's shot behind goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made his first start since March 15.
Matt Duchene, with his first goal in 14 games, temporarily tied the game for the Avalanche 1-1 at 8:09 when he poked in a loose puck after Lindback made a couple of saves.
Smith put the Predators ahead for good at 12:10 when he beat Giguere to the glove side with a shot from the right circle.
"I thought in the first period, we got a little bit lucky on some of the pucks," Trotz said.
Roman Josi increased the lead to 4-1 at 16:09 of the second period. He skated down left wing, accepted Smith's centering pass and whipped the puck inside the near post.
Former Avalanche forward Brandon Yip scored on a wraparound at 1:57 of the third period. Yip was claimed on waivers Jan. 19, and two of his three goals this season came against Colorado.
Matt Halischuk padded the Predators' advantage to 6-1 when he scored on a two-on-one rush at 6:20.
The Predators rested regulars Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill and Francis Bouillon, not that they needed any of them on this night.