DENVER - At 6-feet-5 and 207 pounds, Pekka Rinne is an imposing figure in the crease, and he's playing like a serious Vezina Trophy candidate.
The Predators, who have outscored their opponents 42-21 while winning nine of their past 11 games, have won two of the first three games of a six-game road trip and sit fourth in the Western Conference with 26 wins and 58 points.
"We've been playing pretty well as of late and we've been building a lot of confidence," said Rinne, who had 32 saves and lost his bid for a shutout on a goal by Matt Duchene with 3:37 remaining in the third period. "Personally, I feel good, and the guys are playing well in front of me."
Rinne has won eight of his past nine starts while permitting two goals or fewer eight times. He began the night ranked second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.13) and save percentage (.928).
"He's one of the best goalies in the league," Duchene said. "He doesn't get much attention because of where he plays. You never hear anything about him, but he's outstanding. He's a big guy and he plays very well. Give him a lot of credit, but when you don't play your game plan, you always seem to run into a hot goalie."
The Avs, who had won three of their previous four games, learned shortly before the game that left wing Tomas Fleischmann will miss the remainder of the season to be treated for pulmonary emboli - one blood clot in each of his lungs.
But coach Joe Sacco said he didn't think players had an emotional letdown.
"We're all professionals," he said. "As much as you don't like to hear any news like that about any player, especially one of your teammates, we have to move forward. We have to carry on. I think we've been very good about dealing with injuries. I don't think that's an excuse for tonight. We got what we deserved."
The Predators took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Sergei Kostitsyn and Cody Franson, then put the game on ice with three goals in the third.
"Everybody's playing well and we're all on the same page and it's giving us chances to win," Franson said. "We're playing well within our system. We've played well defensively and in doing that it's giving us chances to play a little bit of offense."
Kostitsyn was in the right circle when he accepted a cross-ice pass from Martin Erat and fired the puck off the near post and into the net just 3:15 into the game.
Franson scored from a similar spot on the ice at 16:37 with a one-timer that also beat goalie Craig Anderson to the short side off a feed from Patric Hornqvist.
The Avalanche thought Ryan Stoa, who replaced Fleischmann on Duchene's line, had scored inside the right post from in close with about seven minutes left in the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1. But the goal was immediately waved off and play continued until the Predators iced the puck, after which the call was upheld following a lengthy review.
"I saw it between periods," Sacco said. "We got word from someone watching inside the (Avalanche) room that it had crossed the line. That's what it looked like to me. The referee waved it no goal, so he can't change his call on the ice. So it goes to the League, and the League makes the decision. It was a turning point. I thought that we started to come on there in the second half of the second period. But overall that's not an excuse for the outcome of the game."
Rinne said the long review was a fortunate break for his weary teammates.
"It was huge," he said. "We were tired after that and we got that little break. For sure, that helped us. To be honest, I didn't know at the moment if it was in or not. I kind of lost the puck and we just got a lucky break there. It hit my pad and it was just one of those lucky things where it stayed out. It changed the game a little bit for us and we gained some momentum."
Rookie Matt Halischuk and David Legwand scored on consecutive shots 2:17 apart early in the third period to give Nashville a 4-0 lead and Colin Wilson stickhandled through the Avalanche defense before putting a backhander over Anderson's glove at 9:57.
Halischuk, playing in his third game since being recalled Sunday from Milwaukee in the American Hockey League, scored on a wraparound at 2:05. Legwand followed from the slot at 4:22.
Wilson's goal capped a night the Avs are eager to forget.
"We have to put this game behind us. It was embarrassing," forward Milan Hejduk said. "It was just an awful game."
|Sergei Kostitsyn (12) ASST: Martin Erat (14), Marcel Goc (12)|
1 - 0 NSH
|Cody Franson (6) ASST: Patric Hornqvist (11), David Legwand (11)|
2 - 0 NSH
|Matt Halischuk (1) ASST: Shane O'Brien (6), J-P Dumont (8)|
3 - 0 NSH
|David Legwand (6) ASST: Patric Hornqvist (12), Cody Franson (11)|
4 - 0 NSH
|Colin Wilson (12) ASST: Shea Weber (21), Kevin Klein (10)|
5 - 0 NSH
|Matt Duchene (19) ASST: Kevin Shattenkirk (17), Chris Stewart (15)|
5 - 1 NSH
|Ryan Stoa Hooking against Shea Weber|
|Shane O'Brien Unsportsmanlike conduct against Ryan O'Byrne|
|Cody McLeod Unsportsmanlike conduct against David Legwand|
|John-Michael Liles Tripping against Martin Erat|
|Cody McLeod Roughing against Ryan Suter|
|Cody Franson Tripping against Philippe Dupuis|
|David Koci Roughing against Shane O'Brien|