NASHVILLE — "It's a party city," Nathan MacKinnon said Thursday inside the underdogs' locker room in downtown "Smashville."
Who doesn't dig a good party? The Avs have RSVP'ed to crash it.
"Our expectation is to come in here and win," coach Jared Bednar said after the team's morning skate inside party central, Bridgestone Arena.
This hockey town is no joke. Judging by the appropriately dressed foot traffic at the corner of Sixth and Demonbreun, the unofficial uniform in Smashville is a cowboy hat and P.K. Subban sweater. The festivities begin at the Walk of Fame "Preds Party in the Park" game watch and continue to the real, live catfish tank on the upper concourse at Bridgestone. Yep, catfish tank. The locals have been known to tape a catfish onto their backs or smuggle them into the arena by other smelly reasons possible. And onto the ice it goes. Ahead of Game 1 late Thursday night, the Avs are embracing the underdog hook, line and sinker.
"We know they're going to be buzzing," said MacKinnon, Hart Trophy candidate. The Preds are 28-9-4 here.
"There's no pressure on us," MacKinnon added.
Bednar? All smiles. Same for the Avs, who went through a vigorous skate to reacquaint themselves with what goalie Jonathan Bernier called "the toughest building" in the NHL. It's a fantastic building, by the way, decked in yellow towels on every one of the 17,113 seats like it's Heinz Field or something, with a "BE THE 7TH MAN" banner dangling high in the rafters. My Uber friend, rocking another Subban sweater, said Nashville's weekend started on Wednesday: "Hockey's taken over this city."
Music City stays tight to its roots: national anthem performers have included Carrie Underwood, Trisha Yearwood, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley, whose "Smashville" whiskey bar stands at one end of the rink.
Bednar said there are no lineup changes for the Avs' first playoff game in four years, MacKinnon's rookie season, a seven-game loss to the Wild.
How do the Avs swing the upset in Game 1? Here's one route: the Preds, whose depth is far superior to Colorado's, were the most-penalized team in the NHL. Score an early one on the power play and make 'em sweat. The formula for an upset must include an early lead. A rare vulnerability of the President's Cup holders: Nashville's 5-15-5 when trailing after two.
Then, "We've got a goaltender who can steal games for us," Bednar said.
"I think we're relaxed," Bednar said. "I think we're confident."
No one in burgundy is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Nashvegas is the clear favorite here. But Colorado's house money is stacked high.
"We're the 16th seed in the playoffs," MacKinnon said.
For more from Bridgestone Arena check the Gazette's Facebook page tonight at 6:30 p.m. Colorado time, when I'll check in on Facebook Live.