16 games remained on the Colorado Avalanche schedule heading into this afternoon's tilt against the visiting Nashville Predators and the ones that stood out were the ones against Nashville and the Minnesota Wild as they are the three teams competing for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Avalanche would get off to an ugly start against the Preds, giving up 11 shots on goal in seemingly the blink of an eye but a more even-keeled defense would eventually slow the pressure from the Nashville attack. Once finally on offense, the Avalanche created a number of good chances, none better than Shawn Matthias outworking his man for puck control and dishing to Carl Soderberg, who threw the puck at the net and Blake Comeau fought off defenseman Anthony Bitetto to put a backhand shot behind Pekka Rinne for the 1-0 Avalanche lead.
A feisty first period would see a fight between Austin Watson and Jarome Iginla in the waning moments but the game would remain tied heading into the first intermission.
The second period would be a lot more of the same as another fight and tons of chippy play dominated a well-paced game. Nashville would capitalize on a typical Colorado defensive zone lapse and Filip Forsberg would sneak a puck past a sliding Pickard to tie it 1-1 late in the period.
The Avalanche would regain the lead in the final minute of the second as Francois Beauchemin would hit a flying Nathan MacKinnon with a breakout pass, then follow the play up the ice and a MacKinnon drop pass to Beauchemin resulted in a slapshot on goal that Gabriel Landeskog would deflect into the net for the 2-1 lead.
Nashville would waste almost no time in the third period evening the score as a broken play led to a stray puck in the feet of Beauchemin and James Neal would pick it up and fire it past the unsuspecting Pickard just 1:02 into the period.
Mike Fisher would put the Predators ahead 3-2 just over halfway into the third period after yet another defensive breakdown saw the Avs casually chipping the puck to nobody in particular. The Fisher goal is listed as unassisted but Andrew Bodnarchuk deserves plenty of credit for setting Fisher up with a perfect puck.
Two empty net goals would push the final score to 5-2 and while the score is certainly not indicative of the close, entertaining hockey game played today it's too late in the season for moral victories.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Fisher's goal would be the game-winner and may end up being the dagger in the Avs' playoff hopes.
Neal's game-tying goal just a minute into the third period completely wiped out the good feelings accrued by Colorado's last-minute second period goal and put the game back into doubt.
BY THE NUMBERS
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"It's a tough loss, let's not kid ourselves. Right now we need to remain even-keel and remain focused for the next game" - Head Coach Patrick Roy
Is this one ever a bad loss. Colorado is 1-3 in their last four games despite either having the lead or being tied entering the third period. Given that, it's not a huge surprise that Colorado might have played itself out of the playoffs with their third period failures this week.
The loss today puts Colorado eight back of Nashville and two back of Minnesota but both teams still have a game in hand on the Avalanche, meaning the hole is just that much deeper.
Colorado continues its four game homestand Tuesday night as they welcome in the Arizona Coyotes. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm MST.