DENVER — It’s yet to be seen if the upstart Avalanche can pull off an all-timer of an upset in the NHL playoffs. Do they have enough healthy bodies and goaltending to upset the top-seeded Predators in a best-of-7 series that's suddenly growing horns?
For all the joy in Avsville, it’s still 2-1 Preds, with two more looming in Smashville.
But here’s when we will know for certain if the Avs can extend their season into Round 2 or start reserving tee times at Castle Pines: if the Avs stoop to the level of P.K. Subban with dangerous sucker punches to another man’s head, it’s all over except for the handshakes. The Avs will be cooked. Colorado can’t win that way. That way is Nashville’s way.
After three evenly matched games, the Preds are playing with fire. They are rattled by Nathan MacKinnon's speed and Gabe Landeskog's daredevilry. Game 4 is Wednesday, and the Avs are under their skin. That was apparent again on Tuesday when Subban doubled down on his vicious punch to the back of Avs star Nathan MacKinnon’s head: “I’d do it again next game.”
Then Subban laughed. Every series worth the price of admission deserves a proper villain, and Subban has readily raised a fist to volunteer.
“If you’re in the playoffs there’s things that are going to happen in games,” Subban said after Nashville went through a spirited morning skate. “It just depends on the media and what they make up of it. It’s up to you guys.”
OK, since he’s offering: it was about a month ago several Hall of Famers worked with HBO’s “Real Sports” to complain the NHL hasn’t done enough to protect its most valuable assets, the stars on the ice. Well, here’s an easy response for the NHL to borrow: “If you’re in the playoffs ...”
Can’t have it both ways, fellas.
"What brought him down was concussions," Paul Montador told HBO of his late son, former NHL player Steve Montador.
The Avs and Predators must win this heated series in different ways.
Since the series began on Thursday, on every day except one, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has emphasized how the Avs must focus on playing hockey and avoid the extracurriculars that often surface in a long playoff series: “We’re not a team that looks to mix it up after the whistles.” The Avs can’t afford to. I was wrong about one thing; that's not Colorado's ticket. The Avs are down top defenseman Erik Johnson, splendid 19-year-old defenseman Sam Girard (who returned to the ice Tuesday and is day-to-day, Bednar said), and it’s every day defenseman Tyson Barrie endures another postseason whack, by person or by puck. But that’s either how Nashville wants to play, or has been frustrated into playing. The Predators led the NHL in penalties. And now that Nashville’s style hasn’t shaken the Avalanche, it’s the Preds who are shook. Their chit-chatting with the officials was raised to new levels during Game 3.
This series hasn’t been overly physical, so it’s no wonder some of the ex-NHLers hanging around Pepsi Center smile and chuckle when someone suggests otherwise. But it has been dirty. Subban’s sucker punch on MacKinnon scored a spot on the highlight reels, but Subban dealt the exact same cheap shot on Avs forward Blake Comeau earlier in the game.
“We need to find a way to stay out of the (penalty) box,” Predators forward Ryan Johansen said Tuesday.
Count me among the few who appreciate Subban’s honesty. We can’t complain about player- and coach-speak one day and criticize these mega-millionaires when they are blunt the next. But his proud boast — “I’d do it again next game” — was also one of the dumbest things I’ve heard from an athlete in 2018. I cover the NFL quite a bit, so that’s saying something. Aside from gaining a few tough-guy followers on Twitter, why would you ever alert the officials? That seems like a target for the stripes who now will watch his gloved right hand with a hawk’s eye.
Meantime, if someone sucker punches them on the right cheek, the Avs should offer the other cheek as well. That's how they can win the series.