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NHL Playoffs: Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 6 Preview
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The Colorado Avalanche are dead.
A year removed from finishing as the NHL’s worst team, the Avs snuck into the playoff picture this year in a neat bounce-back story. Unfortunately, they drew the regular season’s best team (and reigning Western Conference champs) in the Nashville Predators.
While many people expected this to be a quick series, Colorado proved to be scrappy and force the series to six games. Ultimately, though, the Preds proved to be too strong. Here’s your updated NHL playoffs bracket.
Let’s take a look at where things went wrong for the Avalanche.
The Avs were dealt a tough blow at the end of the regular season when their starting goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, went down with a lower-body injury that would ultimately end his season. Varlamov was good during the regular season, posting a .920 save percentage and 2.68 GAA in 51 appearances.
Varlamov’s absence meant backup Jonathan Bernier would have the starting duties in net for Colorado. Bernier started the first four games and didn’t exactly have a great time, allowing 14 goals in 11 periods with an .883 save percentage.
Bernier was forced out of Game 4 with a lower-body injury and replaced by Andrew Hammond, who played just one regular season NHL game this year and seven over the past two seasons combined. Not an ideal scenario.
Hammond — affectionately known as "The Hamburglar" was spectacular in Game 5, stopping 44 of 45 shots in a winning effort to force Game 6. Unfortunately for the Avs, he came back down to earth in that final game, giving up five goals on 37 shots.
It’s tough to make a legitimate run in the playoffs when you’re forced to go up against the Presidents’ Trophy winners with your third-string goalie.
Too thin down the middle
The Avalanche have Nathan MacKinnon, which is great considering he’s an MVP-caliber center who put up 97 points during the regular season and performed well in this series.
Unfortunately, they only have one Nathan MacKinnon.
Otherwise, the Avs are pretty thin down the middle on offense, and that doesn’t typically spell good news for a team in the postseason. The Predators know this quite well, as it was an issue for them down the stretch last season, and why they went out and added Nick Bonino in the offseason. Now, depth down the middle happens to be a strength of Nashville’s.
For Colorado, Alexander Kerfoot was decent, contributing two points (both goals) and owning 47 percent of shot attempts while he was on the ice at 5v5 in the series.
After that, the Avalanche didn’t really have too much worth writing about.
It wasn’t just a problem down the middle, either…
The Avs were too top-heavy to be taken seriously as a legitimate threat. They’ve got a fearsome top line with MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Those three are explosive and dynamic and a ton of fun to watch together.
The rest of the lineup? Well…it’s just okay.
As such, the Avalanche rely heavily on their offensive production to come from those guys. It worked for Colorado at points in the series, but it was pretty much a wrap once Nashville started to find success with Colton Sissons, Bonino and Austin Watson matching up against them.
Not only did the Sissons-Bonino-Watson line shut down the Avs’ stars in Game 6 by suffocating them with pressure on the puck, they also produced in the offensive end. That line was responsible for three Nashville goals, including two in the first period.
Their success gave the team a spark and freed up the Predators’ weapons — including Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson — to make an impact of their own.
Depth is key in the playoffs, as teams will often find a way to shut down their opponent’s top guys for at least a stretch, and secondary players will be called upon to pick up the slack. The Avs just didn’t have enough.
Colorado’s defensive unit has some decent some young pieces, but is nothing special yet. They finished the regular season ranked 14th in goals against, and it was pretty evident that they’d have their work cut out for them going up against a Nashville team that has talent throughout the lineup.
But it wasn’t just goaltending affected by injuries either. The Avs also lost one of their top defensemen, Erik Johnson, after he fractured his patella late in the season. Johnson was the team’s top shutdown guy and led Avs skaters with 25:26 average TOI during the regular season. For a Colorado defense that wasn’t overly impressive to begin with, losing him was a brutal blow.
It’s not like they were completely run over in the series, but Colorado’s blue line corps just wasn’t good enough to withstand Nashville’s attack, especially with question marks in net. They’re going to need to improve that back end.
Nashville saved their best for last
Nashville’s best game came in the final game of the series. After a surprisingly tight series leading up to Game 6, the finale was more like what most people expected to see heading into the series.
Nashville was great defensively, suffocating Colorado’s top line and creating chances in transition. They held a significant advantage in possession both at 5-on-5 and overall. They held 61 percent of shot attempts and 67.5 percent of scoring chances in all situations.
Pekka Rinne also finished the series strong. After being pulled in Game 3, Rinne allowed just four goals and had a save percentage of .951 through his final three starts — including a shutout in the clinching Game 6.
Most people expected Nashville to dominate this series, and that didn’t really fully happen until the final game. You have to give credit to the Avalanche for putting up as much of a fight as they did, especially given the tough hand they were dealt in terms of injuries.
Don’t forget that this is the same Colorado Avalanche that had one of the worst seasons in recent memory last year, finishing in dead last. Even making the playoffs a year removed from that disaster is a good enough story on its own, but taking the Presidents’ Trophy winners and reigning Western Conference champs to six games is something they should be proud of.