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This article was published 7/5/2018 (1256 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It had all the potential for a truly memorable night in this city's sporting history.
You had a high-flying home team looking to find its killer instinct and go where no local NHL club has ever gone. You had a rabid fan base ready to explode in excitement, both inside the sold-out rink and by the thousands in the street soaking it all in. And you had a visiting squad coming off a lopsided defeat that put their season on the brink.
Well, great expectations ended in crushing disappointment Monday for the Winnipeg Jets and their vocal supporters.
Nashville rained all over the parade with a dominant 4-0 victory at Bell MTS Place which sends this best-of-seven series back to Tennessee for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday night. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights await the winner, while Washington and Tampa Bay have already earned their spots in the final four.
"Overall, that wasn't our game," captain Blake Wheeler lamented following the loss. "They played a good game, got out to that lead and it’s just tough. It’s just tough to come back. We just couldn’t find a way to get that first one. I think our belief was, if we were able to get that first one, we were going to get rolling and, you know, come back in this game. We just couldn’t find a way to get that first one."
Players and coaches often say there's no such thing as momentum carrying over from one game to the next in the playoffs. And that was certainly the case Monday as Nashville needed only 62 seconds to open the scoring. Any thoughts they might still be reeling from Saturday's 6-2 loss on home ice were quickly laid to rest.
Viktor Arvidsson was taken hard into the boards by Dustin Byfuglien, picked himself up off the ice and then seemingly ducked for cover as a Roman Josi point shot appeared headed towards his head. As he hit the deck, his stick just happened to catch a piece of the puck and deflect it past Connor Hellebuyck.
Lucky? Sure. But it was just what the Predators needed to bring a wild and wooly Jets crowd quickly down a few notches and get their own game into gear. A quick video review confirmed it wasn't a high-stick, and just like that Winnipeg had fallen behind and was chasing the game.
"There's lots of stuff that we didn’t like. There’s lots of stuff we can do better," coach Paul Maurice said following the game. "I get it. It's frustrating. It's painful. You were right there. It’s en elimination game. There have been an awful lot of seven game series that have happened in the history of the National Hockey League, and somebody was up 3-2 in every single one of them."
Arvidsson has been a force all series, not just with his three goals and two helpers, but also three beautiful jumping screens which have contributed to Nashville goals. He had another great chance later in the period on a two-on-one off a bad Byfuglien pinch, but linemate Ryan Johansen couldn't convert the feed.
Winnipeg got the only three power plays of the opening frame, presenting a perfect opportunity to get right back in it. But they were unable to generate much during those six minutes of man-advantage time, which would come back to haunt them.
Pekka Rinne made three big stops on a Bryan Little deke attempt, a Paul Stastny re-direction and a Patrik Laine one-timer.
"I think the power play was a microcosm of the way we played. We probably weren't moving as well, weren't moving as sharp as we want to be," said Stastny.
The Jets were gifted a glorious chance in the second period when Mathieu Perreault's dump-in attempt hit the linesman in the back and bounced right to Stastny, who walked in on a breakaway. But he fired wide. It was that kind of night.
"It was just one of those nights," said Stastny. "It's just another learning experience from us and you grow from it."
And just a few minutes later, Nashville doubled their lead. Filip Forsberg was able to deftly keep himself onside while receiving a long stretch pass, then get around Ben Chiarot and beat Hellebuyck as he was being hauled down on the play. Forsberg was only in position to receive that pass because his stick had broken seconds earlier, and he'd gone to the Nashville bench for a new one.
Winnipeg stepped up its urgency later in the period, with both Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele having strong chances to score only to be denied by Rinne.
It was a truly impressive bounce-back effort from the Vezina Trophy candidate, who had been pulled in Game 5 after allowing six goals on 26 shots. He was perfect on this night, stopping all 34 shots he faced.
"We were just not skating and not moving the puck. That was pretty much the whole story of our game, five-on-five. On the power play we have to move the puck quicker and skate faster," Laine said following the game. "We know that we can be better but obviously they had a good game and they played a solid game. We know we can be a lot better than that and we have to be if we want to win to win Game 7."
Forsberg added a highlight-reel goal early in the third, pulling a pass between his legs and flipping it over Hellebuyck. Arvidsson then scored into an empty-net in the final minutes to finish off an impressive night.
The Jets were unable to muster much of a counter-attack as the Predators displayed a similar smothering defensive approach that was so successful in their 2-1 Game 4 victory in Winnipeg. The Jets finished the night a woeful 0-for-4 on the power play, while Nashville went 0-for-1. Hellebuyck ended up with 26 stops.
"For all of the good things that they did (Monday)… it probably should go seven games. Its been back and forth, up and down. It’s probably right that its goin’ seven," said Maurice.
Visiting teams have now won four of the six games in this series -- so you can throw the concept of home-ice "advantage" out the window. That includes two straight defeats at Bell MTS Place for Winnipeg, which had won 13 straight prior to that. As well, nobody has managed to string together consecutive victories, with each team alternating through the first six.
No doubt the Jets hope both those trends continue now with their own season on the line.
"It will be fun. I think we just have to enjoy it, embrace it," said Stastny. "I think everyone expected it. Everyone from the outside, when you have the two top teams. I'm sure that's what people wanted was Game 7, and that's what they're going to get."
Wheeler was asked what his response would have been if told at the beginning of the season his team would be in this situation.
"I'd have given you a big kiss," he replied. "Not a lick, let's be clear," he added in reference to Brad Marchand's antics with the Boston Bruins.
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.