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Avs face Predators in possible first-round matchup preview

Sportsnaut
Apr 26, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) makes a save during the third period against the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche know some of their playoff plans, just not their opponent.

They can help decide that when they host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in their final regular-season home game.

Colorado (56-18-6, 118 points) has clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will play the second wild card team in the first round. That could be Nashville, and a win over the Predators could increase the chances of the teams meeting again within the week.

Nashville (44-29-7, 95 points) has clinched a playoff berth but is battling the Dallas Stars for the seventh seed. The Predators hold the tiebreaker over Dallas and just need to finish with as many points. If they win their last two games, they accomplish that and avoid the Avalanche in the first round.

Colorado is coming off a 5-3 home win over St. Louis on Tuesday night that snapped their season-long four-game losing streak. The Avalanche were in a position to win the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season in the NHL, but the recent slip-up puts that in doubt.

Even though they were battling Florida for the most points in the league, the Avalanche rested some players after clinching the Western Conference. Devon Toews didn’t make a recent three-game road trip and other players have sat out to recover from minor injuries.

Colorado may have relaxed, too, after clinching, and Tuesday’s win helped focus the team.

“We weren’t doubting ourselves, but I just think we had gotten away from our game for a little bit,” Colorado’s Erik Johnson said. “I think our details were slipping. I think we thought the game was going to come a little easier than it was. We just had to kind of trust the process and get back to playing our fast-paced game.”

The Avalanche could get Mikko Rantanen back Thursday after he missed the past four games with a non-COVID illness, but forward Gabriel Landeskog (knee surgery) won’t play in the two remaining regular-season games.

Nashville clinched its playoff spot Tuesday night despite an overtime loss to Calgary, with the celebration further muted by a lower-body injury to top goaltender Juuse Saros. Late in the third period, Saros appeared to hurt his left leg and has been ruled out for the last two games.

The Predators recalled Connor Ingram from the AHL to share duties with David Rittich.

Nashville knows it will be a decided underdog in the opening round of the playoffs against either Calgary or Colorado but already exceeded expectations by reaching the postseason.

“It’s a real tribute to our players,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “We certainly deserve to be in the playoffs the way that I think we played all year and the way that the guys have battled. No one picked us to be here.”

The Predators have played well against the Avalanche this season. They’ve won two of the three meetings – both victories at home – with the last one coming in overtime on Jan. 11. Colorado’s win came back on Nov. 27 in Denver.

–Field Level Media