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Star Nathan MacKinnon looks so lonesome he could cry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nathan MacKinnon, the NHL’s best player, looked lonelier than a man with no dependable friends to lean on in tough times. He sat on a bench in the Avalanche locker room after a 5-4 loss to Nashville. All the color in his face drained by fatigue, MacKinnon slowly unraveled the tape around his legs, and threw it in a pile.

It looked like a mound of trouble.

With the Avalanche public relations staff clearing out the dressing room faster than bouncers hurry bar patrons to the door at closing time, MacKinnon sat alone, nobody on his right, nobody on his left, nobody with his back.

And if that wasn’t a picture that perfectly illustrates how Nashville has taken a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, I’m afraid another 1,000 words won’t do much to convey how deeply the Avs are buried in trouble.

At times, Colorado looks defenseless against Nashville. And it’s with good reason. The Avs came into the series without injured goalie Semyon Varlamov and No. 1 defenseman Erik Johnson, then took another hit to the blue line when Sam Girard was too gimpy to suit up for Game 2.

I asked MacKinnon if the Avs had enough healthy hands to put up a good fight against Nashville. No Varlamov, no Johnson, no Girard. No chance?

“It’s a big deal,” MacKinnon said Saturday, with candor shared between the two of us.

Girard “was our best defenseman last game, and he gets hurt,” MacKinnon said. “We’ve already lost E.J. Those two guys play 22 and 28 minutes a night. We can’t replace that. Guys are doing a great job filling in. But I’m not going to sit here and act like it’s not a big deal. It is a big deal.”

MacKinnon is the NHL’s best player. But he can’t – and won’t – beat the league’s best team by himself.

Colorado has now lost 12 straight games to Nashville. You could look at it as the Avs are due for a victory, when the series returns to Denver. But what happened here was not an accident any more than the predatory hit Ryan Johansen put on Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in the series-opener.

In two playoff games, any hope the Avalanche had for stealing a victory on the road was smothered in a pile of 10 goals by the Predators.

Now, maybe I don’t know much about math or math, but as they like to say down here in Tennessee: That dog won’t hunt.

“I think five-on-five, we’ve been a better team through two games,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon scored early in the third period to pull the Avalanche within 3-2. But, even at that juncture, this loss seemed as inevitable as the sad ending to Game 1. Nashville forwards spend so much time in possession of the puck, hanging out in the Avalanche zone, that Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier should install an espresso machine in the corner, push a few overstuffed leather chairs on the ice, offer free wifi and ask the Predators to make themselves at home.

Twelve straight losses to the Predators. Ten goals surrendered by Colorado in two playoff games. Three key defensive players – Varlamov, Johnson and Girard – wearing street clothes in Bridgestone Arena when the puck dropped for Game 2.

Any way you read those stats, it makes you want to weep worse than the lyrics of a whiskey lullaby full of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

“We’re close. Real close. Win a Game 3, and all of sudden, you’re feeling good and they start second-guessing themselves,” said Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog, uttering with conviction all the things a captain is supposed to say when the going gets tough.

Let’s keep it real. Does Colorado coach Jared Bednar have enough defensive talent in his locker room to hang with Nashville, which can send shots by Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith and P.K. Subban at the Avalanche net in wave after wave?

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