Play of P.K., Pekka puts Preds over the top

Jets let chance to push Nashville to brink slip through their hands in 2-1 loss


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They had a golden opportunity to put the Nashville Predators on the brink of elimination while taking another massive step in their own playoff journey.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2018 (1850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They had a golden opportunity to put the Nashville Predators on the brink of elimination while taking another massive step in their own playoff journey.

But the Winnipeg Jets hit what they no doubt hope is just a minor, temporary roadblock Thursday night as the visitors in yellow skated away with an impressive 2-1 victory at Bell MTS Place.

“I think they were just playing good defence. Both goaltenders were playing well. From our point of view we just couldn’t score,” said Patrik Laine, who got Winnipeg’s only tally of the night in the final minute of play to make it interesting.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny's (25) shot is stopped by Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (35) as Scott Hartnell (17) defends during first period NHL round-two game four playoff action in Winnipeg on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

This best-of-seven is now down to a best-of-three, with Nashville wrestling home-ice advantage back from Winnipeg. Game 5 is set for Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.

“We don’t change anything. I think our group has responded all year long and not for a second did we think coming into this series we were going to breeze through it. We expected it to be a battle and throughout this whole thing there’s going to be learning experiences and ups and downs,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “It’s how you respond to it. We’ve responded incredibly well all year. It has not been an easy year – a lot of adversity all year – and we’ ve answered the bell every single time so I’m excited about Game 5.”

Pekka Rinne was the major storyline out of this one. After giving up 12 goals over the first three games – leading some to speculate whether coach Peter Laviolette should consider turning to backup Juuse Saros – Rinne silenced any critics with a clutch performance worthy of the Vezina Trophy candidate that he is.

Rinne stopped 32 of 33 shots he faced, including one circus-like swipe in the opening period when he used the butt-end of his upside-down stick to steal a sure goal away from Josh Morrissey.

It was that kind of night for the Jets, whose red-hot sticks went ice cold on the night. Few of their passes were crisp as the Predators did a terrific job of turning what had been a track-meet at times into a turtle derby by clogging up the neutral zone plenty and putting their workboots on.

“I think you want to up the desperation level a little bit as we go forward. But systematically, we’ ve been a real tough team to play against all year. We just got chasing a game against a team that was desperate and needed a win. They were willing to sit five guys back and we weren’t willing, for the most part, to do the things we needed to do to break that,” said Wheeler.

Laviolette stuck with his No. 1 goalie, but he did make a couple of lineup changes in an attempt to perhaps add some more grit and experience. Veteran Scott Hartnell drew in for speedster Kevin Fiala, while Yannick Weber replaced Alexei Emelin on the blue-line.

Nashville was noticeably more physical on this night, while keeping Winnipeg’s skilled players largely on the perimeter and out of the high-danger scoring areas that they had feasted on during the first three games of the series.

Hartnell made his presence felt on his first shift, when he went right after Dustin Byfuglien and tried to goad him into dropping the gloves. Byfuglien wouldn’t oblige, recognizing what a terrible trade-off that would be, but it shows the Predators weren’t going to back down from the force Byfuglien has been so far in these playoffs.

Winnipeg’s decision-making wasn’t at it’s best, either. Take Laine, who negated what would have been an early power play when he went after Roman Josi for cross-checking Mark Scheifele hard into the boards. Officials were already sending Josi to the box, but Laine’s retaliation evened it up.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler is checked into his bench by Nashville Predators' Austin Watson during first period NHL round-two game four playoff action in Winnipeg on Thursday.

Meanwhile, P.K. Subban continued to be at the centre of the action.

He hammered Brandon Tanev with a big, clean hit in the opening frame, then did the same to Scheifele a few minutes later.

With the game still scoreless, Rinne made another great save off a Laine one-timer, perfectly anticipating the cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor to the Finnish sniper.

His teammates paid him back with just over three minutes left in the opening period. After losing a face-off in their own zone, Winnipeg struggled to clear the puck and Ben Chiarot inadvertently batted it on to the stick of Ryan Hartman. The Nashville forward was more than happy to deposit the gift over Connor Hellebuyck’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead.

It was a rough shift for Winnipeg’s fourth line of Andrew Copp, Matt Hendricks and Joel Armia, who made his return from injury and replaced rookie Jack Roslovic in the lineup.

Winnipeg came out stronger to start in the second, outshooting Nashville 9-2 through the first half of the middle frame. But once again Rinne stood tall. His best came on a Jacob Trouba rush and an Armia rebound which he corralled.

The game began to open up a bit with the teams trading chances, but that came to a halt when Byfuglien was whistled for a slashing penalty which gave Nashville their first power play of the game.

It didn’t take long for Subban to cash in on one of his trademark one-timers. Viktor Arvidsson provided a perfect jumping screen of Hellebuyck, as he did twice on goals earlier in the series.

Nashville is now 4-for-12 with the man advantage through four games. Subban now has five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the series.

The goal was especially tough for Winnipeg to swallow, considering Wheeler and Scheifele had just failed to convert on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush a few seconds earlier.

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) checks Nashville Predators' Scott Hartnell (17) during first period NHL round-two game four playoff action in Winnipeg on Thursday, May 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

A turning point, for sure. Winnipeg generated next-to-nothing for a long stretch after that goal, getting outshot 16-2 from the midway point of the second to near the midway point of the third.

“Halfway through that game, the shots are 22-11. We had lots of offence. You have to be careful about decrying chances you didn’t score on. That’s a dangerous thing. At 2-0 we went a block, I think of 16, 17 minutes where we didn’t get a chance really five-on-five.,” coach Paul Maurice said following the game. 

“I think we were a little slow moving the puck through the neutral zone, trying to do things a little more individually than you need. But that wasn’t the case in the first 30 minutes of the game. I don’t think we moved the puck the way we need to to build that speed that we need to through the neutral zone. We were digging an awful lot of them out of our feet. They knocked some stuff down, did a good job.”

They did fire a few pucks at Rinne in the latter stages of the third and cut the deficit in half when Laine snuck a shot through his legs with 51 seconds left and the Jets with a 6-on-4 man advantage courtesy of a Subban penalty and a pulled goalie.

But that’s as close as they would get.

“It’s always nice to score but that was just a little bit too late. At least that goal gave us a chance to tie the game but we just couldn’t capitalize,” said Laine. “Hopefully, it gives me more confidence for next game and hopefully I can maybe score a couple of more.”

Hellebuyck finished his night with 27 saves to take the hard-luck loss.

“It was more defensive, hunkering down. We got to look forward here. We can’t let this affect our game. We just got to continue building, you know, play the way we want to play,” said Hellebuyck.  

Scheifele had said earlier in the day his team was treating this as “just another game” and not getting caught up in the significance of it. But a win would have put the Jets firmly in control, considering teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven win almost 90 per cent of those series.

Now they’ll have to win at least one more in enemy territory if they wish to advance to the Western Conference final.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nashville Predators' P.K. Subban (76) celebrates after Subban scoring against the Winnipeg Jets' during second period NHL playoff hockey action during game 4 of the second round, Thursday, May 3, 2018.

“It’s a best-of-three series and we’ve got to be able to win on the road again and try to play better defence and not give the Predators so many odd-man rushes, like we did tonight and just try to defend better,” said Laine.

Nashville had lost Game 3 in devastating fashion, blowing a 3-0 first-period lead on their way to a 7-4 defeat. Any thoughts it might carry over to Game 4 were quickly put to rest as the Predators played a smothering style for all 60 minutes, taking a rabid crowd out of it early and grinding out a textbook road win.

“Your goal on the road is to definitely steal one. We did our job, they did their job. There’s a reason we’re one and two in the West. It’s two good teams going at it. You got to expect this is going to be a battle right to the end,” said Hellebuyck.

Thursday’s defeat also snapped a 13-game winning streak on home ice for the Jets, which dates all the way back to Feb. 27. The visitors that night? None other than these same Predators.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.


Updated on Friday, May 4, 2018 12:03 AM CDT: Adds slideshow

Updated on Friday, May 4, 2018 12:16 AM CDT: Full write through

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