"They play such a tight brand of hockey," said Avalanche rookie Matt Duchene, who opened the scoring in the first period during a two-man advantage and had five of his team’s 23 shots. "They play such a good defensive style and they really forecheck hard and play hard. We totally expected that game from them. Fortunately, we were able to put more in than they did."
Said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco: "We knew it was going to be a tight-checking game. I don’t think it was our best game. We found a way to win."
The Avalanche have won a season-high five games in a row. Colorado’s 64 points are two more than second-place Vancouver in the Northwest Division and just five fewer points than it had all last season while finishing last in the Western Conference.
"It’s great," Duchene said. "It’s right where we want to be, especially with Vancouver playing well and creeping up on us. This was our game in hand, and it’s huge to win it."
The Avalanche also got a power-play goal from rookie Brandon Yip and killed off a six-on-four disadvantage in the final 34 seconds after Paul Stastny took a hooking penalty, preventing what could have been a quality scoring chance for the Predators, who have lost three in a row.
"We had a big kill at the end," Sacco said. "Those last 30 seconds seemed like about two minutes."
The Avalanche caught a huge break with 7:31 remaining when Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist was penalized for interfering with goalie Craig Anderson, negating what would have been a tying power-play goal by Ryan Suter on a shot from the point.
"I may have touched him a little bit, but I wasn’t sure if he was outside the blue (crease) or not," Hornqvist said. "The ref made the call, and that’s life sometimes. I didn’t run into him, maybe backed into him. It’s a hard situation."
Anderson has taken his share of hits this season and said referees seem to be paying more attention to goalie interference as the year progresses.
"I established my position at the top of the crease," he said. "As the shot was coming, the guy kind of bumped me a little and knocked me off-balance. It wasn’t a huge impact or a huge hit, just enough for me to lose my balance and lose sight of the puck."
Anderson, who finished with 29 saves, has been in goal for all five games during the Avalanche streak. He’s posted a 1.35 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in the run, one shy of his career high.
The teams exchanged second-period goals, with Yip scoring at 7:25 for a 2-0 Colorado lead and Nashville’s Cody Franson countering at 8:47.
Yip converted Darcy Tucker’s pass from right in front for his sixth goal in 14 games since being summoned from Lake Erie in the American Hockey League. Rookie Ryan Stoa, recalled from Lake Erie on Friday, collected an assist on the play for his first NHL point.
"Stoa made a nice play to Tucks, and Tucks is a good veteran player who knows to throw it back door," Yip said. "I just tapped it home."
Yip has collected all of his goals and assists in the past 12 games. He was called up from the minors after missing two months to recover from a hand injury suffered in a preseason game.
"We were hoping this year that Brandon would have an opportunity to play with us," Sacco said. "Offensively, he’s been a pleasant surprise, no question. I like his compete level; he works hard and brings intensity to the game."
Duchene has given the Avalanche exactly what they expected after selecting him with the third pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He leads all rookies in scoring with 34 points in 50 games, and he has three goals and two assists in a three-game point-scoring streak.
Duchene opened the scoring at 13:46 of the first period during a five-on-three power play. John-Michael Liles was at the left point when he fed Stastny deep in the right circle. Stastny passed to Duchene in front for a redirection behind goalie Pekka Rinne.
"I found some room in there," Duchene said. "I was able to find an open pocket and Paulie is such a great playmaker. He took kind of a tough pass out of the air from Liles and put it down on his stick and was able to hit me with an open net. After that, it’s pretty much a tap-in."