Connor Ingram advances from third goaltender to Nashville’s best upset bet


Nashville's hopes rest on Connor Ingram.

Nashville’s hopes rest on Connor Ingram.
picture: Getty Images

It might have been an impossible task after all. What more could Connor Ingram have done to stop the Colorado Avalanche than grow a third arm or leg? In his second NHL start ever and first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ingram went from Nashville’s No. 3 goaltender to Patrick Roy overnight. He’ll get another chance this afternoon to stop Colorado for Game 3 of the series for his first playoff win. But he should look for his second.

Usual Predators starter Juuse Saros missed the first two games of the first-round series with a lower body injury after a spectacular regular season. Ingram assisted David Rittich in Game 1 of Tuesday’s best-of-seven series. Rittich was blitzed by the Western Conference No. 1 and allowed five goals on 13 shots in just over 15 minutes on the ice. Ingram came off the bench and only allowed two goals on 32 shots the rest of the way. Both pucks that passed him on Tuesday were deflected by a teammate.

In the NHL playoffs, much of a team’s success depends on whether or not a goaltender is on form. Colorado destroyed Nashville with Rittich licking goals like a sieve. The Avalanche’s production halted when Ingram got caught between the pipes, and they still won the game. Ingram’s Herculean effort at the net didn’t result in tying the series at one game apiece, as the Predators were heavily outnumbered everywhere else.

In Game 2, the 25-year-old made 49 straight saves occupied by both Avalanche goals and took the Predators’ chances of victory from slim to almost a reality as the Avs won 2-1 in overtime. Nashville is likely to hit the ice at the Bridgestone Arena, ready to kick his ass off if he gets the contract since Saros was already ruled out for Game 3.

Ingram’s journey to becoming a near-playoff hero almost never happened, not because of Saros’ injury, but because he almost retired from hockey not long ago. In January 2021, it was announced that Ingram would be retiring from the sport to willingly participate in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. The Athletic later reported that Ingram spent 40 days in a California psychiatric treatment center. Doctors diagnosed him with OCD, which led to alcohol use, anxiety and more.

He was back on the ice to start the 2021-22 season with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals. He finished the season with a 30-17-7 record and a 2.70 clean sheet average. He made sporadic appearances in the NHL, going 1-2-0 with the Predators. All this prepared him for Thursday. And at the first shot he was in the biggest game of his life Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon met.

No other Colorado player scored until overtime. And in sudden death rules, that’s a loss. Defeated, several Predators players were quick to comfort Ingram, knowing he had done everything he could to tie the series before it was moved to Music City. Between markers from MacKinnon and Cale Makar, Ingram saved in every way possible, recalling how Jordan Binnington spent most of the 2018-19 season in the AHL before taking the St. Louis Blues to their maiden championship. Only Binnington had teammates who could score more than one goal in a playoff game.

Two blocks from famed country music venue, Ryman Auditorium, will be Ingram’s next assignment. He could have sung his sorrows like Dolly Parton did from these hallowed halls. But Ingram’s next chance for redemption comes in his first playoff home start on Saturday. Nashville must win four of five against a Stanley Cup favorite to avoid elimination. The good thing is that the Predators have seen that they have the keeper to pull off the monumental surprise.

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