NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Winnipeg Jets’ postseason dream — which spiked upward briefly Friday in Washington — has flat-lined again and has been wheeled back into the intensive-care unit.
The Jets were thumped 3-1 by the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena in Music City, USA Saturday night, running face first into a defensive buzz that features the likes of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Hal Gill & Co.
And the timing couldn’t be worse for the Jets as they lost on another night when they got no favours from their rivals, what with the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators both picking up critical ‘W’s.’
Winnipeg, now 35-32-8 after losing three of its last four, is six points back of the eighth-place Sabres, with a game in hand but just seven left in the regular season.
"We gotta win, that’s all you can do," said Tim Stapleton, the lone Jet goal-scorer. "I don’t know what kind of record we’ve got to go (in the final seven games), but I’m pretty sure it’s probably close to undefeated.
"I just don’t think we did the necessary things. We kinda showed that in the third when we had some scoring chances. I don’t know if we were tired... I don’t think there’s really any excuses. We didn’t get the win and all we can really do is focus on Monday (against Ottawa) now."
Officially, the stat sheet showed the Jets fired 25 shots at Predators’ netminder Pekka Rinne — named the first star — but Winnipeg went long stretches without any decent opportunities.
Even on their lone power-play opportunity the Jets managed only two shots as Nashville’s massive D corps kept the area in front of Rinne clean.
The Jets, meanwhile, needed another stellar effort from Ondrej Pavelec just to keep this interesting at the end. The Preds got goals from Matt Halischuk and Gabriel Bourque before Weber scored into an empty net.
"We got shots, but very few quality shots, very few scoring chances," said Jet coach Claude Noel. "There was very little penetration inside the (face-off) dots and very few second and third opportunities.
"They did a good job of really keeping us to the outside. It was a tough night to get on the inside of anything and when we got pucks to the inside we didn’t have enough traffic or people at the net. But that combination doesn’t get you good results. We were able to get the one. but it was tough. They defended very well, there was very little space out there."
Those Jet fans who are squeamish might want to close their eyes here as we open up some old wounds:
—Winnipeg is now 12-21-4 on the road;
—The Jets are now 1-11 in the second game of back-to-backs;
—And, finally, Saturday’s offensive production represented the 22nd time this season the team had been held to a goal or less, albeit the first since a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Valentine’s Day.
"You score one goal it’s tough to win," said Pavelec. "That’s a tough team to play against. They have big defencemen and we always have to have the traffic in front and I don’t think we did the job and found the net. But you have to give them the credit, they have big defencemen and they can clean the crease and their goalie saw the puck really well.
"I don’t know if we deserved to win or not, but we lost and it is what it is. Monday is another game we have to win and hopefully some teams lose some points. We’re still there. We’re going to battle until the end of the season and we’ll see what happens.
"It’s pretty clear that we need the help from other teams. It’s not in our destiny right now. It seems like everybody else is winning right now. It’s a tough stretch, but we still hope we’re going to make it and we’ll see what happens."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – And now for their next act, the Winnipeg Jets will attempt to keep their playoff dream alive in the hornet’s nest that has become Music City, USA.
Fresh from their dramatic rally against the Washington Capitals Thursday night – the Jets were down 3-0 but rallied for a 4-3 win in overtime – Winnipeg faces the Nashville Predators tonight at the Bridgestone Arena (6 p.m. CBC/TSN Sports Radio). And while the Jets are fighting for their playoff lives, trailing Washington and Buffalo by four points but with a game in hand, the Preds are trying to reverse a spiral that has seen them drop three of their last four.
"We have to get past that game last night and move forward," said coach Claude Noel after the team gathered for an optional skate and meeting in Nashville Saturday. "We talked about that this morning a little bit. We’re looking forward to this challenge here. I mean, as much as you get down when you don’t win games, you’ve got to be careful that you’re emotional highs are not too high either. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that all year. We’ve got enough of a test here today. For us, the games are big and now we turn our focus to Nashville."
Such is the life in pro hockey where Friday’s critical win is savoured less than 24 hours. But the potential momentum from that win and the boost to the morale could be vital for the Jets in their final eight games of the regular season.
"We bounced back. I think a lot of times, especially when you’re down 3-0 with half the game gone, it’s pretty easy to cave in and throw in the towel," said defenceman Randy Jones. "We realized what we needed to do, we beared down and I just think we showed character last night which is good to see.
"Obviously that was a good one for us, but I don’t think it’s going to take a whole lot to kind of get the energy back. We understand the circumstances we’re under and how important this game is. I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of motivation needed. We’ve been saying (make or break) for the last 20 games it’s make or break, so… we’ll just worry about tonight."
The Jets are expected to go with the same lineup as last night in Washington, although Noel did say who starts in goal will be a game-time decision.
The Preds, meanwhile, have given up 11 goals in their last two games – losses to Edmonton and Pittsburgh – and are trying to find some cohesion after adding Andrei Kostitsyn, Hall Gill and Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline while welcoming Alex Radulov back from the KHL. Tonight will be Radulov’s first home game since his return.
"There’s been a little bit of a transition," said head coach Barry Trotz. "Obviously you’re adding four guys to our lineup, so there’s four guys who are out of sorts a little bit. You’ve got to get the chemistry, you’ve got to figure out what’s going to work and why it’s going to work. We’re in that process and I think things are starting to settle in."