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This article was published 27/2/2018 (1375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a game that had a bit of everything: New players making their debuts and having an immediate impact. Multiple comebacks and momentum swings, including a self-inflicted one by the hometown club. Some nasty, extra-curricular activity including a pair of superstars nearly coming to blows. And goals. Lots and lots of goals.
Yes, Tuesday’s tilt between a pair of Central division heavyweights — with first place at stake, no less — more than lived up to its advance billing and gave fans a delicious taste of what a lengthy playoff series between them might be like.
In the end, it was the Nashville Predators who won this particular battle and pulled off an incredible late-game rally, scoring three straght goals including the winner with just one minute left to play, to skate out of town with a 6-5 win over the Winnipeg Jets, who also blew a two-goal lead earlier in the game.
"Had a couple mental lapses defensively and puck is in our net," captain Blake Wheeler said of what he dubbed a "roller coaster" wave of emotions. "You have to give them credit: they stay in the fight. They’re a team that’s been through a lot – one or two games away from winning it all last year. So definitely a learning experience for our team…you can never take your foot off the gas against teams like that. They’re never out of it."
Trade deadline acquisition Ryan Hartman put the dagger in the Jets by getting his first with the new club as the game seemed destined for overtime. Not to be overshadowed, newest Jets forward Paul Stastny made his own great first impression with a goal and an assist.
"It was last shot wins," Jets coach Paul Maurice said of the game in which he liked "big chunks" of how they played. "We had some strange ones go in. I wouldn’t have traded our offence for theirs in a million years. We had a couple of wide-open nets that didn’t get finished, hit a crossbar. I liked a lot of what we did."
Winnipeg falls to 37-17-9, while Nashville improves to 39-14-9 to pull four points ahead of the Jets for top spot.
"We know we have a good team, we know we can play with any team in this league. Obviously (Tuesday) was a bit of a junky ending, but it’s something we can learn from. When you play against these teams as good as Nashville, there’s no quit in them. They play right to the buzzer. And they showed us that," said forward Mark Scheifele.
The No. 1 Jets centre scored twice and nearly came to blows with Predators defenceman P.K. Subban in the middle of a wild second period in which seven goals were scored, including five in less than five minutes. Scheifele dropped his gloves, but Subban chose not to get engaged. Both players were sent to the box for off-setting minors, however, and continued to chirp and challenge each other.
"It’s hockey. There’s battles," said Scheifele. "He likes to talk. It’s obvious our emotions got the best of us, we got pretty heated, but all in all it’s fun playing against a team like that. They have a lot of hard workers, they have a lot of skill, a lot of everything. It shows what it takes to be on top of the division, and we have to strive for that."
After an entertaining but scoreless opening period, business certainly picked up. Matt Hendricks opened the scoring for Winnipeg, but Craig Smith responded a few minutes later by burying a juicy rebound off Connor Hellebuyck.
Then came the Scheifele-Subban encounter, which seemed to light a spark under both teams.
Just seconds after Scheifele emerged from the sin bin, he converted an incredible pass from rookie Jack Roslovic for his 20th of the season. He struck again moments later on the power play, this time on a Tic-Tac-Toe play which saw Wheeler feed Stastny, who made a perfect touch pass to Scheifele. It was video-game level stuff.
Back came the Predators, once again off a rebound by Hellebuyck who seemed to fight the puck all night long. This time it was Kyle Turris who converted.
Winnipeg opted to challenge for offside, believing the Predators might have jumped the zone. After a brief review, the goal was upheld and Winnipeg was assigned a mandatory delay-of-game penalty which came into play this season for failed challenges to prevent coaches from "going fishing."
And with one second left on the ensuing power play, defenceman Mattias Ekholm’s point shot found its way through a crowd and past Hellebuyck.
"I had it as offside. It wasn’t this week," Maurice said of rolling the dice.
Ehlers got the lead back for Winnipeg near the end of the period, taking a flip pass from Patrik Laine, outsmarting Subban and beating Pekka Rinne with a rocket of a wrist shot.
Stastny restored the two-goal lead by getting his first with the Jets, one-timing an Ehlers pass from a sharp angle past Rinne with exactly 10 minutes left in the game. But that just set the stage for the furious Nashville rally.
Just 55 seconds after Stastny scored, Smith got his second of the game off a wrist shot under the crossbar. Ryan Johansen tied it with 6:03 left, squeezing a shot through Hellebuyck’s five-hole.
And then came Hartman’s heroics, as he tipped Josi’s slap pass for the winner. Josi finished the game with five assists.
"We’re a great team, they’re a great team. You gotta play a full 60 minutes to win these games. I think a 6-5 game, it could have gone both ways. We had big chances, they had chances. We gotta look at it and move on to the next game," said Ehlers.
There was also some pre-game intrigue. Defenceman Toby Enstrom was a surprise late scratch, still feeling the effects of blocking a shot during Monday’s practice. He was replaced in the lineup by Joe Morrow, acquired just at the deadline Monday from Montreal. Enstrom is considered day-to-day.
Morrow skated on a third pairing with Ben Chiarot, while Maurice was forced to mix up his top four. Dustin Byfuglien, Enstrom’s usual partner, moved up to play with Josh Morrissey. And Tyler Myers slid down to play with Dmitry Kulikov.
Winnipeg returns to action Friday night, hosting the Detroit Red Wings.
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.