Ingram makes 49 saves, gives Predators chance in Game 2 loss to Avalanche

DENVER – The puck finally slipped past Connor Ingram 8:31 into overtime Thursday. Cale Makar shot it through traffic. It skipped in front of Ingram’s stick and found its way between his pads.

As the Colorado Avalanche mobbed each other in celebration of their 2-1 win and 2-0 lead in the Western Conference First Round, the Nashville Predators goalie stayed on his knees for a moment.

“I think that was the first one all game I did not get my eyes on before it got to me, and that’s what happens,” Ingram said.

Ingram rose to one knee, then skated slowly towards the bench. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm put an arm around him. Then another teammate consoled him. Then another.

It was a bitter ending to an unbelievable, inspiring performance. In his fifth NHL game, his second game and first-ever start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 25-year-old rookie made 49 straight saves after allowing a goal to Nathan MacKinnon on the first shot he faced 5:25 into the first period.

“Connor played great,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “He had a great goaltending performance tonight. He made lots of saves at key times, and it was nice to see him be able to play to his ability. I think against a high-powered offensive team, you’re going to need excellent goaltending to win games, and he certainly provided that tonight. “

Video: NSH @ COL: Ingram makes 49 saves in Game 2 loss

Not long ago, Ingram was unsure he would get a chance to play again, let alone in a situation like this.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Jan. 21, 2001, that Ingram would be away from the Predators to participate voluntarily in the NHL / NHLPA player assistance program. The Athletic reported Ingram spent 40 days in a mental health treatment center in California, where doctors diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder that led to anxiety, drinking and other issues.

Ingram finished last season with Chicago of the American Hockey League. After a couple of months at home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, he moved to Nashville to prepare for the season.

Hynes said Ingram hit rock bottom, but the Predators supported him as a person first, a player second, and he showed professionalism in training and practice.

“I think when hockey’s taken away from probably any of us, for whatever reason, lots of times you miss it and understand how great of an opportunity you have to play in the best league in the world, play a sport that you love,” Hynes said. “And I think he’s grown up in multiple ways, as a person and also as a player.”

Ingram spent most of this season with Milwaukee of the AHL, going 30-17-7 with a 2.70 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage. He tied for the league lead with five shutouts. But he started three games for the Predators, going 1-2-0 with a 3.71 GAA and .879 save percentage.

With No. 1 goalie Juuse Saros out with a lower-body injury for the first two games of this best-of-7 series, Ingram dressed as the backup for Game 1 on Tuesday. After David Rittich allowed five goals on 13 shots in 15:04, Ingram relieved him and allowed two goals on 32 shots in a 7-2 loss. Each goal Ingram allowed went in off a teammate.

Ingram said he knew he was starting Game 2 on Wednesday but kept it to himself at dinner with his parents.

“I did not tell them that I was going to play, because I did not think they would handle that too well,” Ingram said.

[RELATED: Complete Avalanche vs. Predators series coverage]

Allowing a goal on the first shot he faced could have been crushing. MacKinnon flew down the left wing and fired a rocket past Ingram’s blocker, and Ball Arena erupted. But Ingram shook it off.

“He made a nice play,” Ingram said. “He changed the angle a lot before he let it go. It’s a nice shot by him. I think that’s part of maturing with age is just being able to move on and kind of reset and go from there. It’s definitely not the way you want to start, but it happens. “

Ingram stymied chance after chance afterward, helping the Predators kill four penalties. (Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin did put the puck past him with 4.8 seconds left in the second period, but the goal was disallowed for goalie interference.)

Perhaps Ingram’s biggest save came about midway through the third period, when he lunged to his left and robbed Avalanche center Nazem Kadri on a one-timer. Kadri bent over afterward in frustration.

“Unreal,” Predators defenseman Alexandre Carrier said. “… I know what he’s capable of, and I think we all saw it tonight. He was calm, even though I know obviously they were buzzing at some points.”

Ingram spoke so softly after the game, you could hardly hear him. But in the bittersweet moment, he looked at the positive. Game 3 is in Nashville on Saturday.

“I do not think it really matters individually at this point,” Ingram said. “I mean, it’s a playoff series. If you do not come out with wins, it does not really add up to much.

“And that’s the beauty of playoffs. Game 1 it was 7-2. Today it’s 2-1. Saturday, it’ll be a brand-new day again.”

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