Building off of built-up anger from Tuesday’s collapse, the Predators completely shut down the Jets’ offence and breakouts, while controlling the flow of Thursday’s game from buzzer to buzzer in a low-offence 2-1 victory. It was a rare late start on Thursday for the Winnipeg Jets. Not only did the opening faceoff come at 8:45 P.M., but the Jets also really seemed to take a while to get going.
Winnipeg’s Bryan Little summed it up perfectly following the loss, “We were skating into a wall tonight.”
The Predators opened the scoring with just 2:40 to go in the first period. Following a Nashville offensive zone faceoff win, a Yannick Weber point shot got hung up in traffic en route to the Jets’ net. Nearly every player and their dog took turns wacking at the puck, before Ryan Hartman made solid contact – ultimately driving it past Connor Hellebuyck.
Although giving up the late goal, Hellebuyck looked solid in the first period, stopping eight of Nashville’s nine shots. Pekka Rinne was just that much better, stopping all 12 of Winnipeg’s opening period shots – including an incredible butt-end goal-line stop on Josh Morrissey, and a cross-ice sliding block on a Patrik Laine one-timer.
The second period very well may have been more frustrating for Winnipeg than the first. The Jets applied heavy pressure in the opening ten minutes – jumping out to a 10-2 second period shot lead – but were once again unable to solve Rinne. And as typically is the case after one team dominates the shot clock, the opposition scored a goal.
With just five minutes left in the period, Dustin Byfuglien found himself in the box for tripping. On the ensuing man advantage, P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg played hot potato with the puck across the blue line, before the offensive defenceman one-timed his third playoff goal past Hellebuyck – much to the chagrin of those gathered inside or outside Bell MTS Place. Viktor Arvidsson pitched in on the goal with his third jumping-screen goal of the series.
Following the goal, the Preds really turned up their game, outshooting Winnipeg for the remainder of the second period, carrying their 2-0 lead into the final frame.
The only glimmer of hope for Winnipeg came in the final minute of play. Following 19:10 of ineffective breakouts, dump and chase, and line mixing that saw the Jets produce their first shot of the third period over seven-and-a-half minutes in, Patrik Laine finally struck on a six-on-four power play for Winnipeg, with Hellebuyck on the bench for an extra attacker.
After a 30-second timeout, Laine collected the puck off of a clean faceoff win, before wiring it through a Mark Scheifele jumping screen and into the Preds’ net, cutting Nashville’s lead to one with 50 seconds to play. The goal bust Rinne’s bid for a shutout, but it was all the Jets could muster, falling 2-1 at home – Winnipeg’s first loss at Bell MTS Place since February 27th – a span of 13-straight victories.
Rinne made 32 stops while picking up his sixth win of the postseason. Subban extended his goal-scoring streak to three games, and power play goal scoring streak to two. Hellebuyck stopped 27 of 29 pucks directed his way.
Winnipeg Head Coach Paul Maurice may face some questions following his lineup decisions Thursday. While Joel Armia returned to action Thursday after missing time with an undisclosed injury, Jack Roslovic drew the short end of the stick, and was pulled from the lineup in an ensuing move. Matt Hendricks, however, remained in the lineup for game four. Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov skated with the team Thursday morning and would certainly be considered options for game five in Nashville.
Changes will surely come in this now best-of-three series which will shift back to Nashville for an all-important fifth game Saturday evening. If Thursday’s start time was an issue for the Jets, Winnipeg will not like the upcoming schedule, as both games five and six will see late opening faceoffs.
The Jets will fly out to Nashville Friday morning in preparation for game five, set to go Saturday at 8:30 P.M. central time. Once again, Saturday’s contest will be the second of a double header, as Pittsburgh visits Washington at 6:00 P.M., before the Jets take to the ice at the conclusion of game five in D.C. CBC will have the game televised, with a pre-game show starting a half hour before puck drop.
By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder