Three points out of a wild card position for the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs, tonight’s tilt against the Nashville Predators could end up being the biggest game of the season for the Colorado Avalanche.
There’s a lot riding on the contest against the top team in the Central Division, and two points would go a long way in helping Colorado stave off other squads in the West that are vying for a postseason berth.
From here on out, it’s playoff hockey for the Avs.
“[Nashville is] obviously having a great season, and I think for us we need to go about this… like a playoff run. Right now, it’s all about winning,” said defenseman Zach Redmond. “I don’t think it matters how it happens. We need points, we need wins, and we’ll do anything to get them.”
Nashville is without starting goaltender Pekka Rinne, who remains sidelined with an injury for at least another week. That doesn’t mean tonight’s matchup will be easy for the Avalanche, though. The Predators are 18-2-1 at home this season and have a 12-3-2 record against fellow Central Division teams.
As such, the Avs are looking to come out hard early, dictating the pace of the game from the drop of the puck.
“We just have to come out with a strong start, obviously. This is a good team in Nashville,” said center John Mitchell. “They’re the best team in our division right now, and they have a very, very good home record. So we’ve got to take the crowd out of it early and set the tone ourselves.
“We want to go out there and feel loose and feel confident, and go out there and skate and make plays and not think too much. Just do what’s natural and let the game happen. If we do that at a high rate and a fast speed, that’s when we’re a good team. That’s when we’re at our best. We just have to bring that element right away.”
The NHL is coming off of a four-day hiatus that saw only a handful of players take part in the All-Star Game and festivities in Columbus, Ohio. For the Avs—who weren’t represented last weekend after Erik Johnson was announced out due to injury—the break was a chance to rest and rejuvenate before a strong push to the end.
“[It was] a good break for us. Those four days were key,” said 19-year-old forward Nathan MacKinnon. “But it’s back to business, and I think everybody’s really excited. For me personally, having four days off and coming back on the ice, it’s a lot of fun.”
Tonight’s game is the first of a home-and-home series with Nashville that could see the Avalanche gain some serious ground in the Western Conference standings.
“Obviously, it’s the back nine now officially. We had our little break. We have 34 games left in the season. It’s going to be exciting, the final stretch,” said MacKinnon. “We have a very confident group that we can get into the playoff picture.
“It’s a big game tonight. We play Nashville tonight and Friday. [We want to] make a statement on the road, get on them quick and have a good start.”
The puck drops at 6 p.m. MT at Bridgestone Arena in Tennessee.