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This article was published 7/3/2015 (2468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NASHVILLE — Mark Stuart’s face was several shades of bruise. Blake Wheeler appeared in need of an IV. Andrew Ladd had a little smile on his face, which likely would have been bigger had he the energy.
The three men who wear letters for the Winnipeg Jets were instrumental in the latest biggest-game-in-the-history of this version of the franchise.
A 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators Saturday night pushed the Jets to 78 points and ensured they would wake up this morning in St. Louis still in possession of a playoff berth.
With the Los Angeles Kings just two points back of the Jets prior to Saturday’s action, there was potential for the Jets to fall below the playoff line, but the win over the Preds erased that. At least for another day.
The Jets are in a race. Right now they are the hunted, but that can change with the combination of a loss and the out-of-town scoreboard. They must be resilient, defiant and confident.
"That game gets won on leadership. Specifically, Ladd, Wheeler and Stuart," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "On-ice play for one, but... that room has to get right before we can go out and give the effort that was needed. With what’s going on around the league, other teams are winning, we lose two more important players and then come out on the road... it was outstanding."
Great work by Ladd in the first period led to Winnipeg’s first goal. The captain created a turnover just outside the Nashville blue-line then scooted down the zone towards the net before hitting Michael Frolik in the slot. Frolik beat Pekka Rinne through the legs for his 15th of the season.
Nashville responded in the second period when Ryan Ellis floated a wrist shot from the point that pinballed through traffic before eluding Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson at 10:17.
Wheeler, however, put the Jets back in the lead less than a minute later as he jumped on a fat rebound and whacked the puck past Rinne for his 19th of the season.
"It was a good response," said Wheeler. "We’re human. We try to block out the external noise, but we know what’s going on around the league and it’s hard not to let it creep in here. But we can’t focus on what other teams are doing. We just have to take care of our own business."
Trouba and Myers
With veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup, the Jets needed a number of players to step up and take on bigger roles. Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers led the way. Myers topped the Jets in ice time with just over 26 minutes while Trouba clocked in just behind at 24:35.
"This was just a great team effort. This feels so good and everybody took part," said Myers.
"We’re missing some guys and everybody understands that and is doing a little more. No one tried to do too much and we all played within ourselves. This was just a real good team game for us."
No more rookies
First-year centre Adam Lowry hasn’t looked like a rookie for some time, allowing Maurice to give him the assignment of No. 1 centre Saturday between Ladd and Frolik. Maurice has been saying for some time Lowry’s job with the Jets in the future will be to go out against the opposition’s top line.
With Bryan Little out of the lineup, Maurice tasked Lowry with matching up against Nashville’s best, and he handled the challenge.
Lowry played just under 17 minutes and won 11 draws while losing 11. He was physical and responsible. Little is Winnipeg’s best centre and not only creates offence, but also is an effective defender. Lowry isn’t ready to replace Little full time, but his size and smarts allow him to move up and down the lineup.
Not one Norris, but two
Most of the Norris Trophy talk emanating out of Nashville focuses on Shea Weber, but his partner, Roman Josi, is every bit as deserving.
Josi led the Preds with 25 minutes and 37 seconds of ice time and is the catalyst to a lot of what the Predators do on offence.
Weber has the bomb, but it’s Josi who moves the puck up ice and dishes it to his partner when the shooting seams open up.
Josi leads his team in blocked shots and minutes played and is third in scoring with 47 points, four more than Weber. Weber has more of a physical presence but Josi can make the first pass out of his zone or skate it out of trouble.