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Instant Analysis: Preds, Avalanche Clash in Round One

The Central Division Rivals Meet in the Playoffs for the First Time as Preds Begin 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

The Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche will meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The series will open Thursday night in Nashville - click here to see the official schedule - and NashvillePredators.com already has full analysis of the Round One series, a look back at the four-game 2017-18 season series, X-factors and four things that will define the playoff matchup.

Season Series Refresh:

Nashville's regular-season record versus Colorado: 4-0-0

Scoring Leaders:

Goals: Nashville: Filip Forsberg (3); Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon(2)

Assists: Nashville: P.K. Subban (4); Colorado: Tyson Barrie (3)

Points: Nashville: Filip Forsberg (6); Colorado: Three players tied with three

Video: Arvidsson, Predators power past Avalanche, 4-1

October 17, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 4, Avalanche 1

The first of Nashville's four victories over Colorado during the 2017-18 season saw four different Preds find the back of the net in a 4-1 victory.

Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson all tallied on the evening for Nashville, with Josi, Sissons and Watson collecting their first goals of the season. Filip Forsberg added two assists on the night, the second of which was his 200th career point in just his 270th NHL game.

The Predators scored three goals in the second stanza, with Arvidsson scoring the first goal, assisting on the second and drawing the penalty that led to the third.

"We picked it up in the second and third," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "Puck battles, I thought were 50-50 and we could've done a little bit better of a job in the first period, but it wasn't a bad period. In the second, and third, I really thought we played a pretty good game. We got it up to speed, got going, the power play looked good tonight, they were moving the puck well; lots of positives."

Video: Special teams lifts Predators past Avalanche, 5-2

November 18, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 5, Avalanche 2

On Nov. 5, Nashville and Colorado made up two parts of a three-way trade that saw Matt Duchene go to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris to the Preds and rookie Samuel Girard to the Avalanche. Two weeks later, Girard was back at Bridgestone Arena as a member of the opposition.

In the only outing of the season between the two that didn't see the Predators score four goals - they tallied five instead on this occasion - Nashville beat Colorado 5-2 in their second and final meeting of the campaign at Bridgestone Arena.

Craig Smith, Colton Sissons, Anthony Bitetto, Mattias Ekholm and Viktor Arvidsson all scored in the win, while P.K. Subban, Kevin Fiala and Roman Josi each recorded a pair of assists.

"A lot of guys are chipping in," Ekholm said. "Everyone wants to play. I think the competition is really good in here, and everyone is playing well, and that helps each other out. If you have a bad game, you know you have to be on your toes for the next one because guys are stepping up, guys are scoring, so everyone has to play on their top level every game and every night. That's just the name of our team right now."

Video: Forsberg scores in OT as Preds match club record

March 4, 2018, at Pepsi Center: Predators 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

After coming from behind to win in the previous three games of their road trip, the Predators did it once more in Denver to complete a perfect four-contest excursion with a 4-3 overtime win against the Avalanche.

Filip Forsberg scored the winner in OT after Ryan Ellis tied the contest at three with just 1:06 to play in regulation. Austin Watson and Kyle Turris also found the back of the net on the afternoon, with Pekka Rinne making 22 saves in the victory.

The win was Nashville's eighth in a row, a run that would see them reach 10 consecutive victories to set a franchise record.

"Right now, the confidence level is really high," Rinne said. "It shows a lot of character too, and never giving up and coming back every game, it's unbelievable. Sometimes you have those games once a month or a couple times a month, and now we've had one four games in a row. It's a great road trip for us, and for a while now, we've been playing with a lot of confidence and it's a big push here again."

Video: Sissons, Forsberg propel Preds past Avalanche, 4-2

March 16, 2018, at Pepsi Center: Predators 4, Avalanche 2

The Predators completed yet another season sweep of the Avalanche by clinching a playoff berth with a 4-2 victory at Pepsi Center on March 16.

In addition to the berth, the Predators continued to rewrite their own record book by collecting a point in their 14th consecutive game (13-0-1) to tie the mark for the longest overall point streak in club history. In addition, the win gave the Predators points in 14 consecutive road games to set a franchise record in the category.

Filip Forsberg and Colton Sissons each scored twice in the win, while Juuse Saros made 33 saves to give Nashville their 10th straight win over Colorado.

"It feels good," Sissons said of the berth. "That's what every team suits up for in training camp is to get to the postseason. As we found out last year, as long as you get in, you just never know what can happen. We're pumped about it, and to be the first [team to clinch]... it's pretty special."

Series Analysis: Four Things

The Beard is Back: The Predators were in first place in the Central Division on Jan. 2, 2018, so it might be easy to overlook how much the team improved on that day.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis returned to the Predators' lineup after missing the first 48 games of the season due to offseason knee surgery. With No. 4 back on the blue line, Nashville was able to return to the foundation on which they're built and the core strength that carried them to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Since Ellis's insertion into the lineup, the Preds have an NHL-best record of 30-8-6, with the blueliner scoring nine times in 44 games.

"It's great to have him back," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I've been talking about how good he's been defensively, but he's great offensively, too. And he has been for us. He's a big part of our offense."

Perhaps most importantly, Ellis allows Laviolette to utilize the top-two defensive pairings that represent a formidable obstacle to an opponent's top talent, while also offering balance in defensive play and scoring from the top four (including Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban).

"He brings an awful lot of stability to the backend," Laviolette said of Ellis completing the top-four on defense. "You talk about a defenseman that can contribute in all different areas, his speciality teams both ways, he takes down 23, 24, 25 minutes, can go against another team's best players, defensively strong, offensively strong and he's an excellent leader in the room. I think when you add a piece like that, which brings so many dimensions to the team, your team is going to get stronger from that."

MVP MacKinnon? The first overall pick in 2013, Nathan MacKinnon turned in his best season in the NHL in 2017-18 by nearly doubling his previous career high, scoring 39 goals and 97 points.

Following the trade of Matt Duchene to Ottawa, MacKinnon was expected to step up in the absence of one of the club's most offensively gifted players and delivered in a big way. Along with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon makes up what some experts have called the NHL's most dynamic line in the NHL season.

MacKinnon is also one of the game's fastest skaters and has posed problems for the Predators' defense during the season series, posting two goals and an assist in the four meetings. The 22-year-old forward is having an MVP-type season and will have to elevate his play even more if the Avs are to beat the Preds for the first time in three years and pull off the Round One upset.

Depth, Depth, Depth: At his trade deadline press conference, Preds General Manager David Poile explained how his staff compiles a look at the roster makeup of the four teams that reach the conference final each season.

On average, they've found that a team that makes the NHL's final four uses 15 forwards. After Nashville utilized 17 different forwards en route to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the lesson became that much more applicable.

As a result, even with his team playing consistently good hockey throughout the regular season, Poile made the decision to bring in even more assets for Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette to utilize should he need them.

Nashville picked up Ryan Hartman from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline, Mike Fisher ended his retirement in February and rookie Eeli Tolvanen was signed to an entry-level contract near the end of the regular season, just to name a few.

"To have the group that we have, we're a confident bunch," said Preds forward Colton Sissons. "We're just really looking forward to what we can put together as far as a playoff run this year."

"This is the group of guys we've had all year. It's been a terrific group to work with and they've kept their eye on the ball the entire time," Laviolette said. "It's good to see everyone [getting healthy]. That's another positive for me; when guys start getting back in the mix in practice, that's always a positive thing."

If Nashville gets forward Calle Jarnkrok, who has been out since March 13 with an upper-body injury, back at any point during the playoffs, they'll have 15 NHL-ready forwards on their roster. That total doesn't include two more forwards in Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk - currently with Milwaukee of the AHL - who played important roles in last season's playoffs.

Key Injuries: The Avalanche were dealt a major blow on March 31 when they learned top defenseman Erik Johnson would be out at least six weeks and starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov would miss an extended period of time.

Colorado is 1-2-1 without the duo in the lineup, dropping three straight before winning the all-important final game of the season against the St. Louis Blues to clinch their first postseason berth since the 2013-14 campaign.

"It's a huge loss for us because E.J. is our top D and obviously we need him all the time," Nikita Zadorov told the Avalanche website. "Without him right now it's going to be tough, but it's time for other guys to step it up like they did all season long."

Jonathan Bernier has filled in during Varlamov's absence, going 19-13-3 during his first season with the Avalanche. After giving up at least four goals to the Predators in the four meetings this season, Colorado may be hard pressed to slow down Nashville's offense.

X-Factors: Youth (Colorado) and Smashville (Nashville)

Two of the Avalanche's top five scorers this season and their second-year head coach will be making their playoff debut during Game 1 in Nashville.

Mikko Rantanen, Alexander Kerfoot, Samuel Girard and J.T. Compher are just some of Colorado's key players who will be experiencing the twists, turns and grueling play that can only be replicated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. While the Predators have gone further in each subsequent postseason in each of their four seasons under Head Coach Peter Laviolette, Avs bench boss Jared Bednar will be learning on the fly how to approach the chess-like matchups of roster moves and line deployment within a playoff round.

Can the Avs shake off the pressure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and pull off the first-round upset?

For Nashville, the most-successful regular season in franchise history flows into the most-anticipated start to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in memory. Traditionally, the Predators have been underdogs in their Round One series, including just last year against the Blackhawks.

For just the second time under Peter Laviolette and fifth time in franchise history, the Predators will have home-ice advantage for a playoff series. After starting all four series on the road in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL's best regular-season record this time around means Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 will be at Bridgestone Arena in every playoff round the Preds are able to advance to in 2018.

Can Nashville take a 2-0 series lead at home and put the pressure on the opposition? That's something they haven't accomplished yet in franchise history.

History:

The Predators and Avalanche have never met in the postseason before. Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque, Vladislav Kamenev, Samuel Girard were all drafted by Nashville and now play for Colorado. Kyle Turris was technically acquired from the Avs in the three-team trade on Nov. 5.

Video: Preds recap historic 2017-18 season, thank fans

The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule is expected to be released on Sunday evening. Games 1, 2, 5* and 7* (if necessary) will be played at Bridgestone Arena.

For the latest playoff info, go NashvillePredators.com/playoffs to see details on watch parties, plaza parties, giveaways, postseason news, highlights and a #StandWithUs social media toolkit.

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