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Jets faithful get playoff payoff

Long-suffering fans, players will see post-season NHL action

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33), not shown, scores on Nashville Predators' goaltender Juuse Saros (74) as Paul Stastny (25) looks on during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33), not shown, scores on Nashville Predators' goaltender Juuse Saros (74) as Paul Stastny (25) looks on during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/3/2018 (831 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No longer is it a possibility or a probability — the Winnipeg Jets will positively participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A foregone conclusion seemingly for more than a month, the Jets officially locked down a spot in the NHL post-season with a 5-4 shootout victory over the visiting Nashville Predators Sunday night.

Mark Scheifele’s quick shot through the pads of goalie Juuse Saros was the deciding factor, while goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped all three shooters he faced — Ryan Ellis, Kevin Fiala and Filip Forsberg.

The Jets’ No.1 masked man also made 13 stops in the final period and was aided by goal post on a Kyle Turris drive in three-on-three overtime.

Blake Wheeler was one proud captain following the gritty come-from-behind triumph over the Central Division leaders.

"Really proud of our group," he said. "(There was) a lot of uncertainty coming into the year, where we were going to be. I don’t think many people thought we were going to be where we are at, a playoff team. Every single guy in here has had a huge part in that. It’s a big moment for our team and for our organization. We’re pretty excited."

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey (44), Ben Chiarot (7), Bryan Little (18) and Kyle Connor (81) celebrate after Little scored as Jets fans go crazy as the team played against the Nashville Predators' during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018. Image created with a fisheye lens.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey (44), Ben Chiarot (7), Bryan Little (18) and Kyle Connor (81) celebrate after Little scored as Jets fans go crazy as the team played against the Nashville Predators' during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018. Image created with a fisheye lens.

Winnipeg will play beyond the regular season for the first time since 2015 and for just the second time in its seven-year history since moving north from Atlanta.

"You have no idea (how satisfying)," said Wheeler, who scored his 20th goal of the year just 59 seconds into the third period to knot the game 4-4. "The worst part of (past years) has been having to watch these games that mean a lot, both coming down the stretch and into the playoffs.

"That stung and, unfortunately, we have watched a lot of it. (We’ve) just been biding our time for our opportunity."

Winnipeg improved to 46-19-10, good for 102 points, pulling to within five points back of the Predators, 48-16-11.

The squads provided another wildly entertaining preview of a potential second-round collision between two of the best in the Western Conference, featuring plenty of goals and some old-time shenanigans between bitter rivals.

The clubs have combined for 41 goals in five meetings this season, although the Jets were 2-3-0 against the 2017 Stanley Cup finalists.

Winnipeg hockey fans have to love this hate.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) stops a shot with Dustin Byfuglien (33), Blake Wheeler (26) and Nashville Predators' Nick Bonino (13) and Colton Sissons (10) all in front of the net during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) stops a shot with Dustin Byfuglien (33), Blake Wheeler (26) and Nashville Predators' Nick Bonino (13) and Colton Sissons (10) all in front of the net during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.

They jeered P.K. Subban each time the talented, pesky Nashville blue-liner touched the puck, but never more loudly than when he was nabbed for a high-sticking call with exactly 11 minutes left in regulation and the score tied, although the hosts failed to capitalize.

Bryan Little, who supplied his 15th goal of the season, said the late-March matchup mimicked exactly how he envisions a test against the Predators should they meet down the road.

"It was fast, physical, there were a lot of scrums. It was a playoff-type of game out there," said Little.

Another of the veterans who’ve only had the one taste of meaningful spring NHL hockey, Little said he’s pumped about staying in the Cup chase.

"It’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming. Everyone’s been patiently waiting for this group to live up our expectations," he said. "We have a lot of good young players that everyone was patient with, and it’s starting to pay off."

Saros was solid, making 43 stops after all-star goalie Pekka Rinne, who played Saturday in St. Paul, Minn., in a loss to the Wild, was given the night off.

The Predators owned the first period, storming out to a 2-0 lead, while the Jets seized some of the momentum in the second period but still trailed 4-3 after 40 minutes.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) carries the puck into the Nashville Predators' zone during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) carries the puck into the Nashville Predators' zone during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.

Hellebuyck looked a bit shaky on a couple of goals, including Roman Josi’s bullet over his shoulder in the first period, a long-range drive from Ryan Ellis that found mesh just over six minutes into the second and Viktor Arvidsson’s ugly go-ahead goal late in the middle period after he allowed a rebound on Ryan Johansen’s quick shot.

But he made some key stops in the final period, including a save on Ellis on a late power-play chance for the Preds and a nifty leg save on a deflection by Mike Fisher with just 20 seconds left.

Jets rookie winger Kyle Connor scored in his third straight game — his 29th goal — and added two assists, while Dustin Byfuglien added his sixth.

Nashville led 2-0 and 4-3 at the period breaks.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice liked the fire his club showed after a slow, sloppy and reckless opening period, where four needless penalties were taken.

"They have a really clear understanding of what they need to do to be good. An identity. They understand their identity and what makes them good. You’re not going to control all parts of the game," Maurice said. "I didn’t think we came out flat. On our first shift, we were rolling and then we take four penalties and that’s exactly what it’s going to look like.

"We got back to skating in the second period, which is probably the A-part of our game. We skate, we move, we create some havoc and then played one of our best periods of the year."

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Nashville Predators' Miikka Salomaki (20) is hit by Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nashville Predators' Miikka Salomaki (20) is hit by Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 25, 2018.

The Jets set a franchise record with 25 shots in the second period.

Turris also scored for the Predators, a buzzer beater with 0.3 seconds left in the opening period.

The Jets lost Patrik Laine for a chunk of the second period after he suffered a big gash on his chin from an errant stick by Josi, but he did return and took a holding penalty with just over five minutes left.

The Finnish teen has 43 goals, second only to Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.

Winnipeg wraps up a six-game home stand Tuesday when the Eastern Conference powerhouse Boston Bruins pay a visit. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Jets departs Wednesday for their final road trip of the regular season, beginning with a stop in Chicago on Thursday against the sagging Blackhawks. The Jets then return to the Great White North for contests in Toronto and Ottawa over the Easter weekend and then finish up in Montreal.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 10:45 PM CDT: writethru

11:51 PM: edited

March 26, 2018 at 8:47 AM: Updates

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