For the most part, thus far in the NHL’s 2021-22 postseason, we’ve seen a good degree of parity. With the exception of the Carolina Hurricanes – who’ve smacked around the Boston Bruins and taken a 2-0 series lead – the three teams that kicked off Stanley Cup playoff action with a win on Monday, found themselves on the losing end of things in their second game on Wednesday.
Similarly, of the four games that took place Tuesday, you can see three of the teams that won wind up having their series evened up Thursday night. The one team you can’t see drawing even – the Nashville Predators – almost assuredly are going to get throttled again by the Western Conference champion Colorado Avalanche. The Avs showed their power by scoring two goals just 162 seconds into Game 1, and by the 15:04 mark, they’d scored five times and chased Predators starting goalie David Rittich from the net, in favor of rookie Connor Ingram.
The final score in Game 1 was 7-2 for Colorado, but the truth is, the game was over with shortly after it began. The Predators were outclassed so thoroughly, so powerfully, you finished watching it wondering if Nashville was going to outscore the Avalanche in a single period, let alone an entire game.
It’s accurate to say that much of the wind was taken out of the Preds’ sails when star netminder Jusse Saros was injured in the final week of the regular season. Saros had been excellent prior to the injury, but Nashville knew it was taking a chance on its goaltending when it signed Rittch as an unrestricted free agent last summer.-- and Rittich’s regular-season individual numbers (3.57 goals-against average, .886 save percentage in 17 appearances) did not inspire Predators fans to believe in him.
However, let’s not pretend goaltending is the only issue that separates Colorado from Nashville. The Avs’ far superior possession game limited the Predators to only six shots on net in the first period, and only eight shots in the third, This was as complete a thrashing as we’ve seen in this post-season. And it’s very likely going to be a similar steamrolling of the Preds in the next three games.
Even if Saros returns to the series by Game 3, does anyone believe Nashville has a shot at imposing its will on the Avalanche? The Predators have a Norris Trophy candidate in captain Roman Josi, but the Avs have one too, in Cale Makar. But no Predators line of forwards can compare against Colorado’s. The Preds have no equivalent to Colorado's No. 1 center Nathan MacKinnon. Nashville has no reply for star winger Mikko Rantanen, no degree of depth that comes anywhere close to that of the Avs. Nashville is so far over their heads in this series, no single event could turn it in the Predators’ favor.
A few people may think playing before a raucous crowd in Nashville will be a difference-maker for the Preds. To believe that is to ignore Colorado’s 24-14-3 road record this season. It is also to ignore Nashville’s 25-14-2 home record – the fewest number of home wins of any Western Conference playoff team. Fan support does count for something, but it cannot stop the Avs from rolling to the second round with relative ease.
At that point, the Avalanche may be legitimately challenged by either the St. Louis Blues or Minnesota Wild. But right now? Colorado has nothing to worry about. They’ve been arguably the NHL’s best team all season long, and nothing the just-happy-to-be-in-the-playoffs Predators can muster up will make even the smallest of dents in Colorado’s Cup dreams. The Avs are Cup frontrunners. The Preds are Cup-frontrunner pretenders.