DENVER (AP) — The Nashville Predators didn’t break out the bubbly or anything rowdy like that after becoming the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot this season.
“Business as usual,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said of the low-key celebration that included some pizza. “Back to work.”
Colton Sissons and Filip Forsberg each scored twice, backup goaltender Juuse Saros stopped 33 shots and the Predators secured their postseason berth by beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 on Friday night.
The streaking Predators are 13-0-1 in their last 14 games and haven’t lost in regulation since Feb. 17 against Detroit.
“The guys knew with a win tonight we would clinch and I think they fought hard for it,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I really liked our game tonight.”
Starting goalie Pekka Rinne was given the night off after helping Nashville to a win Thursday at Arizona. The team didn’t miss a beat with Saros in net.
Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog had the goals for a Colorado team that returned home after earning two straight road wins, including Thursday in St. Louis. The loss snapped Colorado’s string of nine straight games with a point. The squad still remains in the thick of the playoff chase.
Semyon Varlamov turned back 24 shots as he started both games of a back-to-back for the first time this season.
“There’s no rest at this time of the year. We have to make a push,” Varlamov said. “Nashville’s a really good team, tough to play against, but I think we played strong today, had a really good game. We just didn’t score. We had a couple good chances at the end.”
MacKinnon nearly tied the game late in the third period, but his shot hit off the shoulder of Saros. Nashville also weathered two penalties by P.K. Subban in the final period. Colorado pulled Varlamov in the final two minutes and it led to a game-sealing goal by Forsberg into an empty net with 1:09 remaining.
Landeskog gave the Avalanche a 2-1 lead in the second, but Forsberg tied it three minutes later. Sissons put the Predators up for good when his shot clanged off the crossbar and dropped into the net.
The Predators have at least one point in a franchise-best 14 consecutive road games.
“We’re just working hard. We played last night, got in late, but everybody’s here, everybody’s working hard,” Forsberg said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. Get the job done.”
It was a rare home loss for Colorado, which is 14-2-1 over its last 17 games at the Pepsi Center. Then again, the Predators have long given their Central Division rival fits. They’ve won 10 straight over the Avalanche, including six in a row in Denver.
“They might be one of the better teams in the league, no doubt,” Landeskog said. “For us, it’s just a matter of learning from this one and moving on.”
Sissons scored in the first period by sending in a shot off Varlamov’s shoulder. With just under a minute remaining in the period, MacKinnon fired in a shot to tie it at 1. It was his NHL-leading 60th point at home.
MacKinnon’s goal was set up by a pass from Tyson Barrie, who ran his point streak to nine games and matched the longest by an Avalanche defenseman since the team moved to town in 1995-96.
“You have to be happy with our effort,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.
Laviolette felt the same way, and took a measure of pride in becoming the first team to clinch. Now, about that muted celebration.
“There’s no champagne in there,” he said. “We’re moving on.”
NOTES: Nashville improved to 7-1-1 in the second game of a back-to-back this season, while Colorado dropped to 3-7-0. … Avalanche D Erik Johnson (upper body) and Bernier skated Friday. … F Vladislav Kamenev (arm) will return to Denver this weekend after being loaned to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment. … Alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn attended the game. She earned a bronze medal in the downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Predators: Finish a three-game trip at Buffalo on Monday.
Avalanche: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
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