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The Colorado Avalanche players were supposed to be cleaning out their lockers this weekend, talking about their return to the playoffs and speaking optimistically of next season.
At least that was the assumption when their first-round series with the Predators, the NHL's top seed, shifted to Nashville for Game 5 on Friday.
The Predators took a 3-1 series lead into their home game and were expected to close out Colorado, but the Avalanche proved to be a tough out by rallying in the final five minutes to win 2-1 and send the series to Denver for Game 6 on Sunday night.
"We've got a series again going home, and it's going to be exciting," Colorado captain Gabe Landeskog said after the win Friday.
Landeskog scored the equalizer with 4:11 left and Sven Andrighetto won it with an odd-man rush with 1:28 remaining. The late rally was made possible by the play of Andrew Hammond, the Avalanche's No. 3 goaltender who was thrust into the spotlight after injuries to Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier.
Hammond made a career-high 44 saves and outplayed Nashville's Vezina Trophy favorite, Pekka Rinne, in stunning the Predators.
It was the first time in four tries Nashville has failed to win a game with a chance to end the series dating to last year. But don't expect the President's Trophy winners to hang their heads.
"We can't be depressed in here and sit and stew," Colton Sissons told The Tennessean after Friday's game. "We've got to move on and be professionals. We've been here before and we'll be ready for Game 6, that's for sure."
Nashville still leads the series 3-2 and has already won a game on the road. It was that Game 4 victory that had everyone thinking Game 5 was a formality, but the gritty Avalanche proved to be resilient.
Colorado has made it a series despite mounting injuries. Varlamov's season ended before the start of the playoffs with a lower-body injury, top defenseman Erik Johnson was lost to a knee injury with a week left in the season and Bernier went down in the second period of Game 4.
Defenseman Samuel Girard, acquired from Nashville in November as part of the three-team deal that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa, missed the games in Denver with an upper-body injury but returned for Game 5.
Still, the Avalanche have pressed on, are playing loose hockey and have the Predators' attention.
"It's hockey," Predators forward Austin Watson told The Tennessean. "There's another team out there. I don't know if you guys see that. They're playing pretty well."
Nashville will get back forward Ryan Hartman after he served a one-game suspension for his hit on Colorado center Carl Soderberg in Game 4. His return will bolster an already deep lineup that has scored 17 goals in the five-game series.
But Colorado has shown it won't go away. The Avalanche scored the first goal in the first three games and their three losses were close. Another close game in the third period Sunday could play in their favor.
"I've said it all year long, haven't I? This is a special group," Landeskog said. "It's too early to have the season end. We have way too much hockey in us left, and way too much fight. We're not going to let this go easy. So we keep working."
Updated April 22, 2018