The 4-1 scoreline may not have told the whole story, but the Winnipeg Jets will be happy nonetheless after beating the Nashville Predators and chasing Pekka Rinne is Game One of Central Division semifinal.
Despite being under a nearly constant barrage (including a penalty kill) during the first period, in which the shot were 20-4 in favour of the Preds, it was the Jet who struck first. Bryan Little refused to be stripped up the puck while breaking down the right side. He threw the puck to the net, and a couple of whacks by Brandon Tanev gave Winnipeg the lead with just over five minutes left in the opening period.
The second period opened on a very similar tone to that of the first, with Nashville dominating the puck and the shot clock and getting their second power play of the game. Just like in the first, after enduring the storm the Jets added to their lead, with trade deadline acquisition Paul Stastny banging in a rebound after some great play by Nikolaj Ehlers led to an initial Patrik Laine shot.
Before the period expired, Nashville had their third power play chance of the game with Blake Wheeler sitting for goaltender interference. Filip Forsberg nailed the post instead of a wide-open net about halfway through the kill. The Jets managed to survive the rest of the kill. Fresh out of the box, Wheeler took the puck in his own end and charged through the middle of the ice. Luring defenders to him, he dropped the puck for a wide open Mark Scheifele in the slot who snapped it in. 3-0. Whaaaaaaat?
That third goal may have deflated the Preds a bit, as the top line once again had numerous chances in the dying moments of the frame. A spattering of boos greeted the Preds at the intermission, with Nashville leading in shots 36-16.
Juuse Saros started the third for Nashville, with Rinne to the bench. The change in personnel paid off quite quickly, with Kevin Fiala depositing a Kyle Turris pass into the net. Connor Hellebuyck’s shutout streak ended after 163 minutes and 98 saves.
Ryan Ellis’ face exploded after a collision with Ben Chiarot resulted in a skate to the face. Scary site. He would return a little more Gerry Cheevers-like than he was before.
Chances went back and forth, with the edge remaining in Nashville’s favour. But time kept ticking away on Nashville. With a few minutes left, Saros went to the bench to give Nashville the extra attacker. After Ben Chiarot blocked a shot with his hand, potentially adding to the list of injured jets players, Wheeler fired a puck at the empty net. He missed, but Scheifele won the race to the puck, and deposited it into the vacant cage to make it 4-1. And that’s the way it ended.
- The Jets start the series without the services of Joel Armia, Mathieu Perreault, Steve Mason and Dmitry Kulikov. However, Toby Enstrom returned to action. Austin Watson only managed a few minutes for Nashville before once again exiting after barely participating in practice all week.
- I could have bet that the Jets would have to endure an energetic start from the home team and crowd. But betting on sports is silly. Unless you do it. It’s totally cool if that’s the case. A nervy first period saw the Jets manage just four shots while allowing 20. But one of those four shots went in, as the living legend Brandon Tanev put in his second on the playoffs.
- Bryan Little. Yea, he’s got a big contract. Yea he plays on the third line now. Yea he was absolutely stellar on the opening goal, refusing to be denied and fighting to keep the puck before getting it on net in an effort that earned him an assist.
- If you were expecting physicality, there was a bit, but not nearly as much as game on between Minnesota and Winnipeg.
- The penalty kill was quite effective in the first three chances, but got lucky to avoid a goal that would have made it 2-1 when Forsberg pinged one off the iron. But the game of inches went the Jets’ way this time.
- The long periods of time without a shot on net seemed to lull Pekka Rinne to sleep, because the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy winner (he’s going to win, folks) let in two goals before the Jets hit 10 shots which is extremely out of character. Saros coming in in relief was not uncalled for.
- Nikolaj Ehlers’ speed and ability to gain the zone in possession of the puck are super duper valuable assets for the Jets. The second goal was largely due to his play.
- Nashville dominated the face-off dot, as Winnipeg’s centres continue their post-season trend of losing draws. that would be nice to improve. It helps that Stastny and Scheifele scored to make up for it.
- Connor Hellebuyck was and is stellar. The only reason the Jets were in this game at all after the first period was the Vezina trophy nominee. He made 47 of a possible 48 saves
- Taking a game in Nashville is huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge, and withstanding the early pressure was a great feat.