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3 Keys: Predators at Avalanche, Game 1 of Western First Round

3 Keys: Predators at Avalanche, Game 1 of Western First Round

(WC2) Predators at (1C) Avalanche

Western Conference First Round, Game 1

9:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN360 (JIP), SNE, TVAS, ALT, BSSO

Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche — each a top candidate for the Norris Trophy — will face each other in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Ball Arena on Tuesday.

Josi, voted the best defenseman in the NHL by the Professional Hockey Writers Association in 2019-20, led NHL defensemen in assists (73) and points (96) this season. He was second in goals (23). 

“Personally, I watch a lot of him throughout the year,” Makar said. “He shows up in so many different areas of the ice where you wouldn’t expect him to be, and at the same time, he’s committed on both ends. He’s an outstanding player, and he’s definitely the drive for their team.”

Makar, the Norris runner-up last season, led NHL defensemen in goals (28) this season. He was second in points (86) and tied for fifth in assists (58).

“I love playing against him,” Josi said. “I love watching him play. He’s so dynamic. He’s such a great player.”

Teams that win Game 1 are 499-228 (68.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including 6-2 in the first round last season.

Here are 3 Keys for Game 1:

1. Rally around RittichPredators coach John Hynes said goalie David Rittich will start Game 1, with Juuse Saros out for the first two games with a lower-body injury.

Rittich went 6-3-4 with a 3.57 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in the regular season, including 1-1-0 with a 4.80 GAA and .877 save percentage against the Avalanche. He won 5-4 in a shootout at Ball Arena on Thursday.

He has 17 minutes of Stanley Cup Playoffs experience, allowing three goals on nine shots for the Calgary Flames in a 7-3 loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round in 2020.

“We trust him and believe in him,” Hynes said. “We think he can come in here and help us win a hockey game, and we’ll go from there.”

2. Get back in syncAvalanche coach Jared Bednar said center Nazem Kadri will be a game-time decision, but Kadri skated Tuesday morning after missing two practices with an illness. Colorado appears to be fully healthy with forward Gabriel Landeskog playing for the first time since knee surgery March 14.

The Avalanche must figure out line combinations, rekindle chemistry and find their “A” game again after going 1-5-1 down the stretch. 

“We were maybe looking ahead a little bit too much [to the playoffs], but we’re all very confident in our games,” Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “This is what we’ve been looking forward to.”

Nashville went 2-3-2 down the stretch.

3. Avoid ‘softer’ penaltiesThe Predators led the NHL in penalties (1,035) during the regular season and spent more time shorthanded (455:43) than anyone but the Carolina Hurricanes (479:10). In four games against the Avalanche, they took 21 penalties and spent 24:11 shorthanded. Colorado went 5-for-17 on the power play (29.4 percent).

Hynes said the key will be staying away from “softer” penalties, like stick penalties and penalties 200 feet from the net.

“It’s the trips,” Hynes said. “It’s the holds. It’s the hooks, the slashes, the things that where you can go stick on puck as opposed to going at the guy’s hands. I think those are the things that will be essential.”

Predators projected lineupFilip Forsberg — Mikael Granlund — Matt Duchene

Luke Kunin — Ryan Johansen — Philip Tomasino

Yakov Trenin — Colton Sissons — Tanner Jeannot

Nick Cousins — Michael McCarron — Eeli Tolvanen

Roman Josi — Dante Fabbro

Mattias Ekholm — Alexandre Carrier

Mark Borowiecki — Matt Benning

David Rittich

Connor Ingram

Scratched: Ben Harpur, Jeremy Davies, Mathieu Olivier, Jeremy Lauzon, Philippe Myers, Matt Luff

Injured: Juuse Saros (lower body)

Avalanche projected lineupGabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Valeri Nichushkin

Andre Burakovsky — Nazem Kadri — Mikko Rantanen

Artturi Lehkonen — J.T. Compher — Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Andrew Cogliano — Nico Sturm — Darren Helm

Cale Makar — Devon Toews

Samuel Girard — Josh Manson

Erik Johnson — Bowen Byram

Darcy Kuemper

Pavel Francouz

Scratched: Jack Johnson, Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor, Ryan Murray, Kurtis MacDermid

Injured: None

Status report

Rittich will make his first playoff start. … Saros missed the last two games of the regular season. … Landeskog was out the last 23 games of the regular season.

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