Give the Colorado Avalanche credit for putting up a gallant fight in their first-round Western Conference series with the Nashville Predators. In fact, Colorado came within a post of forcing overtime in Game 4 and possibly evening the series Wednesday night.
But Colin Wilson's point-blank chance clanged off the right post, enabling Nashville to leave Denver with a 3-2 victory and a 3-1 series lead. The Predators can eliminate the Avalanche on Friday night with a win in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
All the odds appear to be stacked against Colorado. Nashville is 15-2 in its last 17 playoff home games, including 5-2 and 5-4 wins in Games 1 and 2 of this series, respectively. The Predators are averaging four goals per game and have been better on special teams.
What's more, the Avalanche are down to their third goalie for this elimination game. Starter Semyon Varlamov is out for the series with a lower-body injury and backup Jonathan Bernier, who started the first four games, departed after two periods Wednesday night with his own lower-body injury.
That means Andrew Hammond, who made a name for himself three seasons ago by going 20-1-2 for Ottawa and helping it steal an Eastern Conference playoff berth, will get the call for Game 5. Hammond stopped all eight shots he faced in the third period Wednesday night.
"Any chance you get in the net, you want to take advantage of it," Hammond said. "So I tried doing that tonight, and just unfortunate that we weren't able to get the win there at the end."
Colorado can blame its inability to convert second-period power plays and the work of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. The Avalanche whiffed on a lengthy five-on-three early in the period - they converted a second one early in the third period to jump-start its comeback - and also missed another man-advantage later in the second.
The Predators scored immediately after killing both penalties, and also got a return to form from Rinne. After being hooked from Game 3 when he ceded four goals on 15 shots, Rinne came up with 31 stops in Game 4, looking more like the goalie favored to take home the first Vezina Trophy of his career.
"I think we did a really good job at the end," Rinne said. "At the end of the day, only a couple of pucks got all the way to me. We blocked a few and they missed the net a couple of times, so we killed the clock pretty good."
While Colorado will be without Bernier in Game 5, Nashville will play without forward Ryan Hartman. He was suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of center Carl Soderberg in the third period of Game 4.
With Hartman out, veteran Scott Hartnell could draw into the lineup for his first action of the series. Regardless, the Predators should be motivated to close the series out and rest for a potential second-round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's going to be another battle Friday night," Nashville captain Roman Josi said. "They are a great team over there and every game is tough."