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Predators got boost from third line in first round against Avalanche

Scoring depth, excellent penalty kill, playoff experience helped Nashville advance

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators were pushed by the Colorado Avalanche but ultimately won their Western Conference First Round Series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games.

The Predators, who won the Presidents' Trophy as the best team during the regular season, will advance to the Western Conference Second Round for the third consecutive season. They will play the Winnipeg Jets after eliminating the Avalanche with a 5-0 win in Game 6 at Pepsi Center on Sunday.

Here are 5 reasons why the Predators advanced to the second round:

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

1. Third line was first-rate

Nashville's third line of Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson excelled defensively and offensively against the Avalanche. They combined for 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) and a plus-18 rating in the series.

Video: NSH@COL, Gm6: Watson slams puck into open net

Sissons (three goals, four assists) and Watson (four goals, three assists) each finished with seven points, which led the Predators. Bonino had five points (two goals, three assists). They also matched up against the Avalanche's top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen at times.

"We did a good job of just getting in the offensive zone and controlling the play a little bit and being hard to play against, especially for that [MacKinnon] line," Watson said. "What an unbelievable line that is and for us to go against them, we had to be on our toes at all times and I think that led to some of the offense for us."

 

2. Penalty-kill prowess

Nashville's penalty-killers were 18-for-20 (90.0 percent) in the series. The two power-play goals came when Colorado had a two-man advantage.

The Predators took 29 minor penalties, but they grew more disciplined as the series went on. Nashville took a total of four penalties in the final two games; Colorado had two power plays in Game 5 and none in Game 6.

 

3. Forsberg's highlight-reel goals

Forward Filip Forsberg, Nashville's leading scorer during the regular season, had some timely goals against the Avalanche, including two highlight-reel efforts on 1-on-1 plays.

Forsberg dangled past Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard for his second goal of the game in Game 1 to give the Predators a 4-2 lead. He opened the scoring in Game 4 by deking around defenseman Duncan Siemens and goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Video: COL@NSH, Gm1: Forsberg scores on unbelievable move

"This time of year, sometimes they're pretty," Watson said. "[Forsberg] seems to do a nice job of finding one of those every once in a while."

Forsberg finished with four goals in the series, tying Watson for the team lead.

 

4. Experience

The playoff experience Nashville has gained in the past four seasons under coach Peter Laviolette came through as the series progressed.

The Predators found ways to win in the first two games of the series at Bridgestone Arena despite surrendering a goal on the first shot against in each game. They also won twice in three games at Pepsi Center, including the series-clinching victory in Game 6.

"I always think it's just great to get out of the first round," Laviolette said. "It's tough. There's that pressure to move on and get into the last eight teams and we're finally past that, which is a good thing."

 

5. Saving best for last

The Predators played their best game of the series when it mattered the most. They had not played a complete game to their full potential prior to Game 6, but were dominant in a 5-0 win.

"Obviously defensively and from my standpoint, that was the best game we played this series," said goaltender Pekka Rinne, who made 22 saves for his fourth career playoff shutout. "I think we knew that coming in and trying to close out the series, it's always demanding and difficult to do. I thought we did an amazing job."

***

 

Complete Coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Predators vs. Avalanche

Jets vs. Wild

Golden Knights vs. Kings

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Lightning vs. Devils

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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