|Physicality ratcheting up in Preds, Avs series|
The theory goes that a playoff series doesn't officially start until someone wins on the road, but the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche are debunking that premise.
The Avalanche beat the Predators 5-3 on Monday night in Game 3 to cut Nashville's series lead to 2-1. The home team has won all three games and Game 4 is Wednesday in Colorado. While no one has been able to wrest control of the series, the tension has increased with each game.
Things got pretty physical Monday night, with Predators defenseman P.K. Subban delivering a punch to the head of Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon that didn't draw a penalty but did draw the ire of the Avalanche.
Subban shook off the criticism Tuesday.
"If you're in the playoffs, physical things are going to happen," Subban told The Colorado Springs Gazette.
That has been evident in this series, from Nashville center Ryan Johansen's hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 1 to the increased scrums throughout the games. The teams are guaranteed to play a Game 5 in Nashville on Friday night and if the Avalanche can win at home again, there will be a Game 6.
That will only increase the animosity between the Central Division rivals.
"Anytime you play the same team over and over and over again you start to really dislike each other," Nashville forward Austin Watson said after Game 3. "That's to be expected in the playoffs. It's good battles, good intensity out there and it's fun hockey."
Colorado's win on Monday made it a closer series but if the Predators rebound to win Wednesday night, it'll be tough for the Avalanche to come back against the Presidents' Trophy winners. Colorado snapped a 12-game losing streak against Nashville without some key players in the lineup, and it might get some reinforcements for Game 4.
Rookie defenseman Samuel Girard, who has missed two games with an upper-body injury, skated in the optional practice on Tuesday and looks close to returning.
"He's still day to day," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Tuesday. "We'll see how he is (Wednesday) morning and make some decisions from there. It's a possibility."
The Avalanche could use everyone in what's expected to be an intense charge by Nashville. Colorado has scored first in all three games but Monday was the first time in the series it built on the first goal and took control.
MacKinnon, the team's leading scorer in the regular season and a Hart Trophy candidate, had two goals, including a highlight-reel one that put the Avalanche up 4-0. It proved to be the game winner after a hard charge by the Predators after falling behind by four.
Colorado's fast start -- four goals in the first 24:25 of the game -- ended goaltender Pekka Rinne's night but he wasn't the problem, coach Peter Laviolette said.
"We weren't very good in front of him," he said after the loss. "I didn't think we were giving him the support he needed. It wasn't a sharp game for us. We left (him) in after the first to see if we would be better."
Nashville players said they have to have a better start in Game 4.
"We're going to have to make a decision in our locker room to do it," forward Colton Sissons said after Monday's loss. "We've got to be the hungrier team right from the get-go, it's just a mindset.
"It's going to be a new test in Game 4. It doesn't matter how well we played in the third period, we're going to have to find a way to have a full 60-minute effort and take our best foot forward. It's a long series."