Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche leaned on their speed to get off to another flying start.
This time, it held up.
MacKinnon scored twice, including one as part of a three-goal first period and another to chase Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne from the game, and the Avalanche beat the Predators 5-3 in Game 3 on Monday night to pull to 2-1 in the first-round series.
Blake Comeau and Gabriel Bourque also scored in a furious opening period that revved up a pom-pom waving capacity crowd. Gabriel Landeskog was credited with an empty-net goal for the Avalanche, who snapped a 12-game skid against the Predators.
“Our guys were energized,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We were on our toes and the aggressors early in that game and it paid off for us.”
Game 4 is Wednesday in Denver.
For a third straight game in the series, Colorado scored first. But the Avs were able to make it stand in this one. MacKinnon and his teammates have been a different bunch at home this year. Their 28 home wins in the regular season was tied for the most in franchise history with the 2000-01 squad that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
“They gained a lot of momentum, used their atmosphere to their advantage and we weren’t able to respond in that first period,” Predators forward Ryan Johansen said. “That can’t happen.”
MacKinnon’s goal at 4:25 of the second period gave Colorado a 4-0 lead and prompted the Predators to pull Rinne in favor of backup Juuse Saros . Rinne allowed four goals on 15 shots.
“We weren’t very good in front of him,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I didn’t think we were giving him the support he needed.”
Laviolette wasn’t in a mood to elaborate on what exactly went wrong.
“It wasn’t good,” Laviolette said of the first period.
Any particular reason?
“We didn’t play very well,” he said.
One thing was clear: MacKinnon was as fast as ever on home ice. He led the league in home scoring in the regular season with 67 points.
“He thrives on the energy in the building,” Bednar said. “He’s just so explosive at home. He’s dangerous every time he touches the puck at home.”
Jonathan Bernier stopped 29 shots on a night when the Avalanche finished 0 for 5 on the power play. Johansen had a second-period goal and Colton Sissons scored another in the third to make it 4-2. Saros was pulled for an extra skater with around 2:20 left and, moments later, Landeskog was credited with a goal after being dragged down on a breakaway. A sliding Landeskog was trying to get the puck over to MacKinnon for the hat trick.
It’s about the only thing that didn’t work out for Colorado.
“We proved to ourselves that we can get a win,” MacKinnon said. “Hopefully it just snowballs from here.”
Nashville got on the board midway through the second after Colorado was whistled for two penalties on a play, giving the Predators a 5-on-3 advantage. Johansen knocked in a rebound to make it 4-1, but Colorado quelled the other portion of the power play.
Late in the second, P.K. Subban and MacKinnon got tangled up near the corner. It led to some pushing and shoving with both getting holding penalties.
Simply playoff hockey.
“Anytime you play the same team over and over and over again you start to really dislike each other,” said Austin Watson, who added a late goal. “It’s good battles, good intensity out there and it’s fun hockey.”
It didn’t take long for Colorado to get on the board with Comeau scoring 1:50 into the game and on the team’s second shot. The Avs beat Rinne on their opening shot in each of the first two games.
Shortly after Bourque tipped in Patrik Nemeth’s shot, MacKinnon scored with 1:53 remaining in the first when he took a pass from Landeskog, used a burst of speed to get free and beat Rinne with a wrist shot.
The last time the Avalanche played at the Pepsi Center it was also desperation time. They beat St. Louis in a winner-gets-into-the-playoffs season finale.
NOTES: Nashville LW Viktor Arvidsson nearly had a goal in the first when he and the puck crashed into Bernier at the same time. The puck slid in, but the officials waved it off due to goaltender interference. … F Filip Forsberg had an assist on Johansen’s goal to become the Predators’ all-time postseason points leader (29). … A Nashville fan threw a catfish onto the ice. … Avs D Samuel Girard missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. … D Nikita Zadorov celebrated his 23rd birthday. … Broncos LB Von Miller showed up wearing a No. 58 Avalanche jersey.
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