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.

  • Nashville Predators left wing Austin Watson ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators left wing Austin Watson #51 scores against Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier #45 in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018. Nashville won 5-4.

  • Nashville Predators fans take pictures of ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators fans take pictures of a smashed-up Colorado Avalanche car in front of Bridgestone Arena before the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • A Nashville Predators fan gets a ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    A Nashville Predators fan gets a look at Gill the Catfish on display in the Instruments of Crime fish tank inside Bridgestone Arena before the Colorado Avalanche play the Nashville Predators for the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs April 14, 2018. The catfish weighs 34-pounds, the same weight of the Stanley Cup.

  • Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen #96 and Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons #10 crash into each other during play in the first period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie #4 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie #4 goes down after getting hit with puck agains the Nashville Predators in the first period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018. Barrie had to go to the locker room.

  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie #4 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie #4 sails after hitting Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban #76 in front of Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche right wing Sven Andrighetto ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche right wing Sven Andrighetto #10 celebrates Nathan MacKinnon's goal against Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 in the period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche fans watch Colorado Avalanche ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche fans watch Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg #34 skate past during warm-ups before playing the Nashville Predators for the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • in the period during the second ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    in the period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen #96 skates the puck down ice against Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm #14 in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog #92 faces off with Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons #10 in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon #29 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon #29 skates up ice against Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher #12 in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg #34 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg #34 hustles down ice with the puck with Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher #12 in pursuit in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Bourque ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Bourque #57 hustles to get into position against the Nashville Predators in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg #34 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg #34 goes after the puck against Nashville Predators center Nick Bonino #13 in front of Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 in the second period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • The Nashville Predators and the Colorado ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    The Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche line up for the National Anthem sung by country western star Brad Paisley before the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth #12 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth #12 and Nashville Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson #33 crash the boards in the first period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • in the period during the second ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    in the period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg #9 passes the puck as he fall down in the first period of play along the Colorado Avalanche bench during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen #96 maneuvers the puck around Nashville Predators left wing Austin Watson #51 in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier #45 ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier #45 blocks a shot with his shoulder by Nashville Predators left wing Austin Watson #51 in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018.

  • Nashville Predators fans get fired up ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators fans get fired up against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018. Predators won 5-4.

  • Nashville Predators right wing Ryan Hartman ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators right wing Ryan Hartman #38 gets a rebound and scores an empty net goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018. Nashville won 5-4 to take a two-game lead in the series.

  • Nashville Predators right wing Ryan Hartman ...

    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Nashville Predators right wing Ryan Hartman #38 celebrates his empty net goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period during the second game of round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena April 14, 2018. Nashville won 5-4 to take a two-game lead in the series.

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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?

“We’ll find out,” Bednar said.

If there’s any justice, MacKinnon will be named the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy.

But here’s the bottom line: The NHL’s best player vs. the league’s best team? All by himself?

That’s no contest.