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Pionk Wins it as Jets Earn Two of Three Points in Nashville

Photo by Rusty Barton

Pionk Wins it as Jets Earn Two of Three Points in Nashville

The Winnipeg Jets travelled south to Music City on Saturday, but didn’t quite have time to catch the local Morgan Wallen show in town, as there was significantly more important business to take care of.

The country-loving crew will have to settle for his September 28 event at Canada Life Center instead – should they still be members of the Jets come next season.

The game in Nashville was undoubtedly the most important test the team has faced since, well, a very fateful Game 7 victory in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at that very same Bridgestone Arena.

Although a number of the team’s stars from 2018 do still remain on the Jets’ current roster, it was players who weren’t part of the squad that made the biggest difference on Saturday.

Enter Pierre-Luc Dubois and Neal Pionk.

Thanks to goals from Nikolaj Ehlers and Adam Lowry, the Jets tied up a game in which they never led. And then in overtime, Dubois setup Pionk for the winner less than a minute in, sending Winnipeg on its way to St. Louis with the extra point.

The win moved the Jets to 39-28-3 on the season, which is good for 81 points and the second wild card place in the Western Conference playoff race. For Nashville, it was a minor setback for a team desperately looking to gain ground in what was a huge four-point game.

With the Predators chasing both Winnipeg and Calgary for that final playoff spot, Saturday’s matinee contest helped provide the Jets with a bit more of a cushion between themselves and their next closest postseason hopefuls. Winnipeg now sits five points up on both the Predators and Flames (76 points) through Saturday afternoon.

Dubois’ return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time, as he rejoined his pals following what felt like a longer stretch off on injury rehab than it really was. Having played once in a span of eight games, his overtime assist proved to be the difference for Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon.

Winnipeg prouduct Cody Glass scored the only goal of the opening frame, beating Connor Hellebuyck on a redirection to put the Predators ahead 1-0 through 20 minutes, despite the Jets outshooting Nashville 13-3 in the period. But once again, it was the common theme of unsuccessful special teams causing issue for Winnipeg. The Jets went 0-2 on the power play in the frame, after putting up another goose egg on five opportunities in their 3-0 home loss to Boston on Thursday.

The second period provided little for either club, with the Jets continuing their shot dominance, staying up 23-13 despite trailing 1-0 through 40 minutes of play.

The final stanza was anything but similar to the opening two, as a combined three goals were scored by the period’s midpoint.

First, it was Nikolaj Ehlers, who absolutely blasted a slap shot through Juuse Saros, picking the corner on a perfectly placed howitzer. The goal came over 100 minutes since the Jets last bulged the twine. It was Ehlers’ eighth of the season, with Josh Morrissey and Mark Schiefele picking up the helpers on the goal 6:17 in.

But just 34 seconds later, Luke Evangelista found his third tally in nine games, scoring on a rough Neal Pionk turnover, bringing much life back into the suddenly quiet crowd.

Ehlers drew a hooking call shortly after, but once again, the Jets were unable to capitalize on the man advantage, moving them to 0-9 on the power play in their last two games.

With the period halfway over, Adam Lowry stepped up and won an offensive zone face-off, dropping to his knee with an extra effort to get the puck back to Morrissey. He put it on net and Lowry followed up his drive by pounding home the rebound, knotting the game at twos with 9:47 left to play.

Nothing was solved in the final stretch of the period, so overtime was required.

And it took just 55 seconds for the visitors to strike.

Dubois won a defensive zone draw and carried the puck into Nashville’s end before putting the disc on net. Defenceman Neal Pionk crashed the net and jammed the puck home on one of the easier goals he’s scored this season. The winner was Pionk’s ninth of the season and first in 12 games.

Hellebuyck turned aside 18 of Nashville’s 20 shots, while seeing his record improve to 30-21-2 on the season. Saros made 32 stops on 34 Jets shots and dropped to 26-19-7.

The Jets conclude their short road trip on Sunday evening in St. Louis with a test against the draft lottery-bound Blues. Winnipeg-born netminder Joel Hofer will get the start for St. Louis. That game can be viewed live on TSN at 6:00 PM central time. Winnipeg will then return home for a Tuesday night game against the Arizona Coyotes, before heading west for three-game Pacific Division road trip with stops in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.

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