That was when the Predators did what they had done all day: possess the living daylight out of the puck.
Viktor Arvidsson made the courageous decision off the ensuing face-off to take on three Avalanche players and battle for the puck behind Colorado goaltender Jonathan Bernier. That battle ate some significant clock, and a quick game of keep-away was able to seal the deal for the Predators.
That game-clinching possession was emblematic of a larger philosophy of the game: the opposition can’t score if they don’t possess the puck.
With two key Colorado Avalanche defenseman, Erik Johnson and Sam Girard, out of the lineup on Saturday, the Predators were able to execute nicely in the offensive zone for much of the game with long shifts and lots of shot attempts. That helped propel them past Colorado to take 2-0 series lead.
The Predators won the possession battle with 55.71 percent of the shot attempts, per Natural Stat Trick. They also had over eight minutes of built-in offensive zone time thanks to five power-play opportunities.
Those long offensive zone shifts can mean a lot to the team’s confidence.
“It’s huge for us,” forward Kevin Fiala said. “If we get the O-zone, everybody is pumped up about that and we’re just trying to look for the next goal.”
That lengthy zone time helped lead to the Predators’ tying goal when Kevin Fiala buried a perfect one-time pass from Colton Sissons on the power play early in the second period. However, not every goal had to come directly from zone time. A long shift with sustained pressure from the Fiala-Turris-Smith was quickly followed by a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Shortly after that power play expired, Arvidsson buried a blistering slasphot to give the Predators the 2-1 lead.
Even without scoring on the sustained offensive shift, the Predators swung the momentum their way and set up a chain of events that led to a big goal.
“It just wears teams down and when you get tired mentally, you tend to make some mistakes and lose some coverage,” Sissons said. “You kinda see that unfold later in the game when teams get worn down.”
That wear and tear was on full display in the third period as the Predators were able to own a significant portion of the shots with a 61% share. Those possessions kept the puck away from Avalanche sticks and prevented a barrage of shots against Pekka Rinne.
When those shots did come, though, the Predators looked good there too.
“That’s where we want to play, that’s where we’d rather play,” head coach Peter Laviolette said on the offensive zone play. “They’re trying to have a say in that. But I think our guys are good in the offensive zone. We certainly work at it enough through the course of a season and practice and in games to try and get there.
“But, I think our guys have done a pretty good job and when it’s come time to defend, I think they defended well too. The offensive zone stuff is good, and that’s where we can feel good about our game and try to make something happen offensively, but when it comes down to playing defense, I think we did a pretty good job too.”
After another fast start for the Avalanche, the Predators settled into their game and tilted the ice. Even while the Avalanche held a lead and came out hot, the Predators still owned the shot share. This graph from Natural Stat Trick shows how dominant they were from start to finish.
With a pivotal showdown in Denver coming up on Monday, the Predators will look to maintain the same strategy. After all, you can’t score if you don’t possess the puck.
“Obviously, that’s ideal if you’re in the offensive zone working and they’re in their defensive zone working because it feels a lot easier if you’re on the offensive side of things,” Sissons said.