Predators, Avalanche set for West showdown
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Might vs. might. A hot home team against a hot team -- period.
Something is going to give Sunday afternoon when the Colorado Avalanche battle the Nashville Predators in Denver.
The Avalanche have put together an impressive two-plus months at home, winning 13 of 14 and putting themselves at the cusp of a playoff berth with 18 games left. They thoroughly dominated the Minnesota Wild in a 7-1 home win Friday night, getting a five-point night from MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon.
While that's impressive, it doesn't measure up to what the Nashville Predators are doing. The Predators (41-14-9) have won seven in a row to vault into the top spot in the Western Conference and eight straight versus Colorado. Nashville has a versatile, powerful lineup and it's about to get more dangerous.
And it's not because of the return of Mike Fisher, who scored a goal in a 4-3 overtime win over Vancouver on Fridya in his first game of the season.
Nashville is set to add top prospect Eeli Tolvanen, who told the team he plans to jump to the NHL when the KHL season ends. Tolvanen, 18, could be playing in Europe until late April, but his addition is akin to Nashville making a big deal at the trade deadline.
In fact, knowing that Tolvanen might come over is why the Predators were reluctant to make a big splash last week at the trade deadline.
Nashville general manager David Poile told The Tennessean that he didn't "want to be redundant by adding a forward with similar skills" that would have prevented Tolvanen from joining the team this season.
For a team coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and peaking at the right time, it's more good news.
It's also a big challenge for the Avalanche (35-24-5). Colorado is one point behind Anaheim for the second wild card and four points behind Dallas for third place in the Central Division.
The Avalanche have piled up wins at home despite suffering some tough injuries. Top defenseman Erik Johnson is out for an extended period with a shoulder injury and forward Colin Wilson suffered a concussion Friday. Wilson has been ruled out for Sunday's matinee matchup.
But there is good news on the injury front for Colorado. Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier is close to returning after suffering a head injury Feb. 16. He skated Saturday, as did forward Sven Andrighetto, who has missed 26 games with a leg injury, and forward Vladislav Kamenev.
Kamenev suffered a broken arm in his Colorado debut Nov. 16 against Washington. He would probably need a few games in the AHL before coming back.
Someone who doesn't need fine-tuning is MacKinnon. The flashy center has seven goals and eight assists in his last six games and hasn't missed a beat since returning from a shoulder injury that cost him eight games.
He was dynamic again Friday, scoring twice to surpass 30 goals for the first time in his five-year career. But he was nonchalant about his big season -- 31 goals, 45 assists, both of which are career bests -- choosing to focus on the team's postseason chase.
"We're not just trying to chase the last wild card, we're trying to be a top team in the division and solidify a guaranteed spot -- in the top three," MacKinnon said after Friday's win. "We got some good players in here and we're feeling it."
That feeling will be tested against the Predators, and the way both teams are playing it might be an epic battle.
Updated March 3, 2018