DENVER – No one expected the Colorado Avalanche to be in first place this late in the season – except the Colorado Avalanche.
Craig Anderson stopped 29 shots, rookie Matt Duchene and Brandon Yip both scored, and the Avalanche won their season-high fifth straight by topping the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Friday night.
Cody Franson had a goal, and Pekka Rinne made 21 saves for the Predators. Nashville, which has a better away mark (15-9-2) than at home (14-10-1), has dropped two straight on the road and three consecutive overall.
Colorado, which finished last in the Western Conference a year ago, is alone in first place in the Northwest Division 51 games into this season.
“We’ve never doubted ourselves. People thought we’d finish 15th in the conference and we had a bit of a chip on our shoulder,” the 19-year-old Duchene said. “There’s a lot of people saying maybe this team is still on its honeymoon and they’ll come back to Earth at some point, but we don’t want that to happen.”
The big reason for the success is Anderson, the Avalanche’s only goalie during the winning streak. He has allowed only two goals in his last three starts.
“When you have a goaltender that’s going to make stops for you at key moments of the game that’s going to lift your confidence,” defenceman John-Michael Liles said.
The Avalanche won on Friday with a gritty performance and a favourable call from the officials late in the game.
The Predators appeared to tie it with 7:31 left when Ryan Suter scored on a shot from the point, but Patric Hornqvist was called for goaltender interference when he bumped Anderson as the puck came toward the net.
“I know I touched him a little bit,” Hornqvist said. “I don’t know if he was outside the crease or not. There’s nothing to say right now. The refs made the call and that’s life sometimes.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz, who viewed the replay after the game, didn’t agree with the call.
“I looked at it again, and to me it’s a good goal,” he said. “At worst it’s incidental contact and no penalty. But obviously I’m not a referee and there’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do about it right now.”
Anderson said the contact by Hornqvist knocked him off balance.
“As the shot was coming, the guy kind of bumped me,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge hit but it was enough for me to lose my balance.”
The Predators were undisciplined throughout, taking 10 penalties and giving the Avalanche nine power-play chances. They cashed in on two.
Colorado took a 1-0 lead on its second shot. With two Predators in the penalty box, Duchene tipped in a pass from Paul Stastny with 6:14 left in the first period for his 16th goal.
“Stastny took a tough pass out of the air and put it down and was able to hit me in front of the net,” Duchene said. “It was just a tap in. All the credit goes to him.”
Yip made it 2-0 at 7:25 of the second when he scored on the power play off a feed from Darcy Tucker, his sixth goal in 14 games this season. The Predators answered right back when Franson scored a power-play goal 1:22 later, his fifth tally of the season.
Franson’s goal ended Anderson’s shutout streak that spanned three games and 106 minutes, 52 seconds.
“We played a pretty good game but we took too many penalties,” Hornqvist said. “We had four penalties in the offensive zone and that’s not good. They scored two PP goals and we scored one. That was the difference.”
Nashville again nearly got even in the final minute. With Rinne off for an extra skater, the Predators swarmed the Avalanche zone and struck the post with a shot. Stastny also took a penalty for high-sticking, but Nashville couldn’t capitalize.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but we found a way to win,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “We were pretty resilient throughout the whole game and we had a big kill at the end.”
NOTES: Avalanche D Ryan Wilson (head) is out indefinitely. … Colorado F Marek Svatos (chest) missed his second straight game and 14th of 16 contests. … Ryan Stoa’s assist on Yip’s goal was his first NHL point.