, Winnipeg put their disappointing first period behind them, and spend the remaining 40 minutes playing good old Winnipeg Jets hockey.
Despite the god-awful first period of play, the Jets delivered their biggest period of hockey when they needed it the absolute most. Entering the middle frame down 3-0 and seemingly out of the game, the Boys in Blue battled all the way back, and then some, jumping ahead to a 2-1 series lead with a 7-4 victory in game three – their 13th straight victory at Bell MTS Place.
Everything, leading up to opening puck drop – including the anthems and the flyby of the two CF-18 hornet fighter jets, went perfectly according to plan. But nearly everything following the first faceoff of the game, until the final horn of the first period went poorly for Winnipeg.
Less than five minutes in, Ryan Hartman redirected a Mattias Ekholm point shot into Connor Hellebuyck. The puck trickled past the Jets’ netminder to Nashville’s Mike Fisher, who easily tapped it into the wide-open net, giving the Predators a 1-0 lead just 4:53 into the contest.
With 11:16 to go in the opening period, Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler was assessed a soft tripping call on Ekholm, handing Nashville its second power play of the period. On the ensuing man advantage, P.K. Subban hammered a one-timer through Hellebuyck’s legs from the point, silencing his boisterous critics midway through the frame.
With 2:25 remaining in what was already shaping up to be a dreadful first period of play for Winnipeg, the Predators struck again. Of the three goals the Jets gave up in the first period, the third would have been the one causing coach Maurice the most stress. A brutal Winnipeg line change saw a loose puck deflect off of a Jet skate directly to Nashville’s Auston Watson. The Preds’ leading scorer then moved up ice, untouched, and put another soft one past Hellebuyck.
Pekka Rinne looked solid between the pipes for Nashville in the opening frame, stopping all 10 of the Jets’ shots, including three great scoring chances from in tight on Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Josh Morrissey. Winnipeg trailed 12-10 in the shot department through 20 minutes of play.
Getting the second period show started was trade deadline acquisition Paul Stastny, who incidentally redirected a Jacob Trouba point shot past Rinne with his leg, just two-and-a-half minutes in. The puck went directly off the in-net camera and out of the cage so quickly, that referee Francis Charron waved it off as no goal. Stastny remained standing behind the Predators’ net with his hands raised in the air, until the play could be blown dead.
Upon review, it was determined that the puck did indeed cross the goal line, giving the members of the Winnipeg Whiteout exactly what they needed – a chance to liven the spirits of their hometown team. And that was all the help the Jets required.
Putting up 10 shots in the opening 12 minutes of the second period – as compared to Nashville’s two – Winnipeg scored once, twice, and three times, before the period was six minutes old. Following Stastny’s third of the playoffs, Auston Watson took a charging penalty on Blake Wheeler, prompting a physical response from Mark Scheifele – that also resulted in a two-minute roughing minor.
It was the best two-minute rough of the season for Winnipeg. With Scheifele and Watson in the box, the Jets used the extra ice to their advantage. First, Dustin Byfuglien released some anger in the form of a blistering slapshot, walking into his second of the postseason, on a slap shot that beat Rinne cleanly, just 40 seconds into the four on four session. Just 17 seconds later, Jacob Trouba scored the game-tying-goal on a beautiful passing play, setup by veterans Stastny and Wheeler. Those three goals by Winnipeg were the fastest in Jets’ playoff history.
Bell MTS Place reached 115.1 decibels on the Trouba goal – a new arena record.
Winnipeg wasn’t even done there. With 45 seconds remaining in the frame, and the Jets leading 25-18 in the shots department, Laine set Byfuglien up with his second goal of the game, on an incredible cross-ice pass, bringing the fans gathered inside Bell MTS Place to their feet once again. Those at the Whiteout street party already on their feet, may have collectively left the ground with that second period go-ahead goal.
“We definitely take note of our fans,” Wheeler said following Tuesday’s game. “It’s not our place to celebrate right now; we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think that what we are trying to do is reward our fan base who have stuck with us for seven years. This is our second playoff appearance in seven years, and I haven’t seen an empty seat in the house in those seven years. It’s for them to celebrate, not us. We’re going to go out there and work hard for them every night – feed off the energy that they bring us. If we can get 50,000 people in the streets, how special is that.”
Winnipeg scored four goals on 16 shots in the second frame, whereas Nashville put together six total shots in the period.
“Our crowd noise is from our crowd,” Wheeler added. “It’s not from speakers, or music or from live bands or whatever – it’s people making noise. That goes right through your body. They’re cheering for you and when our team gets rolling downhill like that it really creates a ton of momentum for us.”
The final stanza began with some rough stuff. Jacob Trouba and Nick Bonino got things started with a scrap just 1:32 into the period. Byfuglien then stepped up and folded Victor Arvidsson like a book at centre ice. While on a power play, Big Buff then steamrolled Ryan Hartman, causing a rouse from the fans gathered inside and outside the building.
Midway through the frame, Jack Roslovic took an interference penalty, giving Nashville another power play. Filip Forsberg made the Jets pay, in scoring his fifth of the postseason on a long wrist shot through a perfect Victor Arvidsson screen.
Winnipeg was rewarded with a man advantage following a Subban slash to the face of Nik Ehlers. Much to the delight of the hometown fans, Wheeler gave his team their final lead of the game, following up on a Scheifele rebound opportunity, and banking it off Rinne and into the cage.
With the Preds’ net empty, Winnipeg scored two long distance empty net markers, sealing the deal with a 7-4 victory – improving their home winning streak to 13 straight games at Bell MTS Place. After starting the game very poorly, Hellebuyck bounced back mightily, stopping 26 of 30 shots in the win.
Byfuglien, Stastny and Wheeler led the way offensively, collecting three points apiece, while Trouba and Scheifele each also had two points in the victory. Ehlers and Ben Chiarot were the only ‘minus’ players for Winnipeg, while Austin Watson was the only ‘plus’ player for Nashville.
Now leading the best-of-seven series two-games-to-one, the Jets will pick things back up with the Preds on Thursday from Bell MTS Place in the fourth game of this second-round series. Thursday’s game will be the second of a doubleheader, as Washington will visit Pittsburgh at 6:00 P.M., before the Winnipeg/Nashville game gets underway at approximately 8:40 P.M. central time. As usual, game four will be available to watch on CBC.
By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder