NHL

Avalanche dismantle Predators after honoring Colorado hockey icon Peter McNab

The on-air talent who called countless hockey games alongside Peter McNab pointed out Thursday before an emotional broadcast and throughout the week that he would find this all to be just a bit much. He wouldn’t want the fuss. Keeping with his personality and passion, the best tribute would be to use the time dissecting the sport he breathed.

For 26 years of Colorado Avalanche existence, he was the standard for hockey color commentary. Even as cancer brought him pain in the last year of his life, he loved being around an Avalanche team that had grown into the standard for modern NHL excellence.

In the first game without him at Ball Arena, Denver honored McNab and the Avalanche ascended to the occasion with a worthy display, topping Nashville 5-3.

Logan O’Connor and Mikko Rantanen scored twice, Nathan MacKinnon kept up in the race for the league lead in assists (18) and Colorado poured on its patented pace. The Predators couldn’t keep up.

It looked an awful lot like the last time these teams met, for a first-round playoff series in May that was more of a formality by the end.

“Absolute juggernaut of a team last year,” former Avalanche forward Matt Duchene, now a Nashville star, said before the game. “They showed us what the bar is in this league right now.”

It remains the bar.

Even in the face of injuries. The Avs (7-4-1) are down a captain, a leading scorer and a pair of offensively proficient defensemen after their trip to Finland. One of the replacement call-ups, Shane Bowers, lasted a minute and 46 seconds of ice time before a left arm injury ended his NHL debut. So Colorado spent most of the game with 17 skaters and out-skated Nashville anyway.

The Predators led 1-0 with a 9-3 shot advantage early. But if the Avs were still jetlagged for the first five minutes, the next 15 minutes more than compensated. It was 1-1 by the end of the period with the top line picking up where it left off: MacKinnon threading needles to Rantanen. The Avs had 21 shots.

Mixed in were some of the usual antics from pesky third-line instigators Logan O’Connor and J.T. Compher. Both found their way into miniature skirmishes — none that would equal the roughhousing scale of McNab’s playing days, but certainly physical for the modern Avalanche brand.

O’Connor kept on competing. Six minutes into the second period, he weaseled into a dangerous position and tipped in a Devon Toews shot. Ninety seconds later, he finished a breakaway with a smooth backhand. Compher assisted both goals.

O’Connor has scored five times in 11 games this season, now surpassing MacKinnon’s three. Not that the recently extended star center is struggling. He has nine assists in Colorado’s last three games, playing extended minutes as Jared Bednar relies more on the top unit.

His power play linemate Evan Rodrigues added a second-period goal to culminate the overpowering stretch of five straight.

Nashville nipped at the Avalanche’s heels with two consecutive goals, making fans uneasy with memory of recent blown leads. But this was a night that started with an extended ovation — a moment of appreciation, not silence — for a franchise pillar. It couldn’t end quietly.

The Avalanche finished a win on home ice for the first time in nearly a month, since the season opener. For the fans who carried signs honoring McNab, that was fulfilling, if maybe a bit empty.

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