NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Injuries left the Avalanche playing their backup to the backup goaltender while needing a victory to stave off elimination.
The goalie nicknamed the “Hamburglar” came through.
Andrew Hammond made a career-high 44 saves for his first postseason victory, and Colorado rallied to beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Friday night and sent the first-round series back to Denver for Game 6.
“Obviously, it was a lot of fun,” said Hammond, who was mobbed in the locker room. “We’re excited to have another game. We didn’t want this to be the last one of the season, and I think to a man, we all did whatever we could to make sure that wasn’t the case.”
This is the third time the Avalanche had trailed 3-1 in a series since moving to Colorado. They lost the first two but have a chance Sunday to push the defending Western Conference champs to a seventh game after rallying with two goals in the final 4:11.
They also became the first to win a playoff game in regulation when trailing in the final 5:00 of the third since Chicago won at Boston in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Gabriel Landeskog started the rally with his goal into an empty net with Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne caught outside the crease with his own teammate Ryan Ellis in his lap. Then Sven Andrighetto gave the Avs the lead off a rebound of a shot by J.T. Compher with 1:28 left that stunned a sold-out Nashville crowd that had expected to celebrate advancing to the second round.
“We’ve got a series again going home, and it’s going to be exciting,” Landeskog said. “As we talked about before tonight, just to win one. We don’t have to win three in one night.”
This was not only Hammond’s first playoff victory, it was his first postseason start since April 17, 2015, with Ottawa and just the third of his career. He started only one game during the regular season after being traded to Colorado in November.
“You never know when you’re going to get a second chance,” Hammond said. “I’ve played two games basically since the start of January — at times it felt as though that day would never come again when you’re going to play again. You keep battling in practice, you stick to the process, when you get your chance, you’re ready.”
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said he loved Hammond’s demeanor since learning he would be starting.
“He’s waited a long time this year for this opportunity, and he’s making the most of it,” Bednar said.
The series winner will face Winnipeg in the second round.
Nick Bonino scored for Nashville.
This game was scoreless until Bonino’s goal with 9:42 left, a big change for a series that had been the highest-scoring of the first round averaging 7.25 goals per game coming into Game 5.
The Predators peppered Hammond, and the only time Nashville beat him was when Mattias Ekholm’s shot bounced off his left pad and went in off Bonino’s right skate. The official on the spot immediately waved it off. Officials huddled, then reviewed the play.
During the review, fans sang “Let It Be” while holding up their cellphones with the flash on. Referee Kevin Pollock announced the call on the ice had been overturned , starting a long-awaited celebration.
The lead didn’t last long as the Avs rallied.
“It’s not like we didn’t have opportunities,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “They did a pretty good job in front of him. We had lots of looks, lots of opportunities. We couldn’t get in.”
The Avalanche came into the postseason with goalie Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson sidelined by knee injuries, then defenseman Samuel Girard missed three games with his own upper-body injury before Jonathan Bernier, Varlamov’s backup, suffered his own lower-body injury. That pushed the Hamburglar into the net.
The Predators started and ended the second period on the power play but couldn’t beat Hammond. Their best scoring chance came with a 4-on-2, but Hammond stopped Roman Josi’s shot and then handled Calle Jarnkrok’s attempt off the rebound at 12:36. Hammond also made a big pad save on Ellis’ slap shot and then stopped another Josi shot late in the period.
NOTES: The Avalanche snapped a seven-game skid in Nashville with the win. They ended a 12-game skid to the Preds overall in Game 3. … Nashville had been perfect last postseason with a chance to clinch a series on its own ice, winning all three series to reach the Stanley Cup Final. … Predators forward Ryan Hartman sat out his suspension for a hit on Carl Soderberg in Game 4.
Game 6 in Denver on Sunday night.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker