The fast, scoring-spree start by Colorado led to some feistiness later on with Nashville. But through all those pushes and shoves, the Avalanche maintained their composure.
Precisely what their coach wants to see.
“This isn’t about ego,” Jared Bednar said. “It’s about winning.”
Nathan MacKinnon and Devon Toews scored 22 seconds apart in a five-goal first period, sending the Avalanche to a 7-2 win over the Predators on Tuesday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“We talked about it beforehand — about coming out with a fast start,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who made his return after undergoing knee surgery in mid-March. “We were just sticking to our game, playing hard and playing fast.”
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Colorado Avalanche left wing Artturi Lehkonen (62)is congratulated for his goal against the Nashville Predators during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Denver.
(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Then, they kept their emotions in check.
“No team wants to get blown out, whether it’s at home or on the road,” Landeskog said. “If the results aren’t going your way, then you try to impact the game in a different way. That’s just the way it is.”
The five goals tied the team playoff record for a period and chased Nashville’s backup goaltender David Rittich from the game with 4:56 remaining in the first. Rittich was stepping in for 38-game winner Juuse Saros, who’s sidelined with a lower-body injury.
Andrew Cogliano, Cale Makar and Artturi Lehkonen also scored in the first. Landeskog built the lead to 6-0 when he was credited for a goal in the second period that was kicked in by a Nashville player.
Just the way the night went for Colorado.
MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game in the third period and, coupled with an assist, raised his playoff points per game average to 1.41. It trails only Wayne Gretzky (1.84) and Mario Lemieux (1.61), with a minimum of 40 games.
Matt Duchene scored twice for Nashville.
“We’ve got to be a lot better and push back a lot better than we did tonight,” said Duchene, who was a first-round pick of Colorado in 2009.
Darcy Kuemper finished with 23 saves.
Game 2 is Thursday, which also happens to be Kuemper’s 32nd birthday.
Since moving to Denver, the Avalanche boast a 17-6 record in best-of-seven playoff series when they win the first game. On the flip side, the Predators are 0-7 when starting a best-of-seven series with a road loss.
Colorado scored virtually every way imaginable: On a power play (MacKinnon), short-handed (Cogliano), opposing player kicking it in on another power play (Landeskog got the credit for a puck knocked in by defenseman Mark Borowiecki) and, of course, even strength (Toews, Makar, Lehkonen and MacKinnon again).
The Avalanche outshot the Predators by a 45-25 margin.
“We were a little nervous, a little tight,” Duchene said. “You can’t be against that team because that team comes at you fast and you’ve got to think fast and defuse them when they’re playing at their best.”
Things turned chippy after the horn to end the second period. Philip Tomasino got into it with Lehkonen. Close by, Luke Kunin shoved down Nazem Kadri, who got a shot in before being pulled away.
In the third period, the game got even more chippy with Mathieu Olivier drawing a misconduct penalty.
“It’s not something we’re shying away from,” Landeskog said of the physical play. “We responded well tonight.”
Cogliano scored his first goal for the Avalanche since being acquired from San Jose on March 21. He took advantage of a Mattias Ekholm turnover with the Predators on the power play and lined it in through a small window.
Cogliano later left the game with an upper-body injury.
The sleek move of the game was turned in by Makar, who zipped around Tanner Jeannot with a nifty move near the blue line, skated down the left side and banked in a shot off the mask of Rittich.
Lehkonen’s score to make it 5-0 with 4:56 left in the first and put an end to Rittich’s night. He was replaced by Connor Ingram, who had appeared in only three NHL games before Tuesday. Ingram had 30 saves.
“I thought Connor looked good,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “He looked calm. He looked poised. He made some good saves.”
The goals by MacKinnon and Toews were in the first 2:42, making it the fastest pair of goals to start a playoff game in Colorado/Quebec franchise history. The old mark belonged to Valeri Kamensky and Peter Forsberg, who scored in the opening 2:54 during Game 2 of the 1998 conference quarterfinals, according to NHL Stats.
Makar became the third defenseman in team history to record three points in a period during a playoff game. He joined Sandis Ozolinsh (April 13, 2000) and Risto Siltanen (April 14, 1987).
On his 27th birthday, Avs forward Nico Sturm received a hard check in the second period that knocked him down. He had to be helped off the ice, holding his arm, but later returned.