NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Have I heard so much Tim McGraw that my brain's gone loopy? Did anyone else trudge away from Games 1 and 2 believing the Avalanche went skate-to-skate with the Predators with a bunch of chances to steal one in Smashville?
That might sound tipsy, not unlike the herds of bachelor parties that hoot, holler and act like hooligans on Music Row. The Preds piled up 10 goals, for cryin’ out loud, and lead the playoff series 2-0. So why did Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog double down on his belief this thing is far from over?
“It’s close,” Landy said in a straight-up angry dressing room after the Avs’ 5-4 loss Saturday. “Real close.”
The margin has been the crowd. The energy and influence of Smashville is no joke. Oh, it wasn’t the 17,116 who piled into Bridgestone Arena that blitzed Avs goalie Jonathan Bernier with three unanswered goals in the second period. The locals didn’t make 30 saves. Pekka Rinne did. But I’ve never seen a building impact a hockey game quite like this one did. When it rains on visitors it dumps buckets. What I'm itching to know: can Pepsi Center match the noise of Smashville and carry the Avs back into this series? It’s been four years since The Can hosted a playoff game. If there’s ever a good time to go hoarse, Monday night in LoDo is going to be it.
“Win Game 3 and all the sudden you’re feeling pretty good and they start second-guessing themselves,” Landeskog said with the same serious look he shot Nashville nemesis Austin Watson, with whom he’s fought before and appeared to come close to throwing down with again Saturday.
Truth is, Smashville was there for the taking in Game 2. Same for Game 1, if we're being real. The Avs whiffed on both opportunities. But you know what flipped the momentum after Colorado struck first in both games? Whenever the Predators created a scoring chance it felt like the roof was about to come off or cave in. Everything from the Predators to the Avalanche to the officials on the ice seemed to feel the influence of Music City's noise. Even as the Avs again built an early lead, it never felt safe.
It’s been a while since Pepsi Center could play a role in the postseason fate of the Avalanche or Nuggets — long enough beer sales should flourish, with Tuesday’s alarm set for 8 a.m. instead of 6.
The Avs weren’t so much bummed after Game 2 as they were ticked off at themselves. So many dumb penalties. A boneheaded line change that shouldn’t happen in a high school playoff game. All that, and the No. 8 seed still had it tied in the third period of Game 1 and within a goal in Game 2.
“We handed them a couple goals tonight,” said Jared Bednar, the closest thing to trash talk you’re going to hear from the steady Avalanche coach.
“To me, if we clean up a couple mistakes we win that hockey game,” he said.
The Preds scored twice in 4-on-4 arrangements and once on a power play. Against a Nashville squad that’s favored to win the Stanley Cup, the Avalanche might as well carry only a 7-iron into Augusta National or go fly fishing with a pencil tied to the end of their 5X tippet.
“Five-on-five we’re outplaying them,” Landeskog said.
Hey, the smart money’s on Nashville to win this series in short order. I said Preds in five, and there’s no reason to back away now. Without Sam Girard (he’s day-to-day) and Erik Johnson (for a while longer), the Avalanche blue line has been reduced to a hyphen. And poor Tyson Barrie. One game after he took an elbow to the head, Barrie took a puck to the face. Don't forget the Matt Cooke hip check that knocked Barrie out of the playoffs in 2014.
Any day now Barrie might just say he's had enough with the postseason.
“I thought we played two pretty good games here in Nashville and didn’t get a win,” said Nathan MacKinnon, who had a goal and assist and finally was able to find some space to do his thing in Game 2.
In the interest of honesty, Smashville’s still getting the hang of this hockey thing. There are times when it makes a bunch of loud noises but isn’t exactly sure why. Twice in Games 1 and 2 the locals erupted with glee after a penalty ... that turned out to be on the Preds. Then boos. And more boos. So many boos. Now it’s up to Colorado to give the Preds altitude sickness.
“I think we’ve proven the last two games we’re more than capable of beating these guys,” Landeskog said.
Take out Nashville's noise and its impact on the game, the rest has been pretty equal. Now the Avalanche needs The Can to equal Smashville.