The Winnipeg Jets have finally done it. In the biggest game in franchise history, the Jets came out soaring. Against the vaunted, Cup-favorite Nashville Predators, the Jets put up a master-class offensive showing and shutdown the Nashville attack for 40 minutes, only bending-but-not-breaking in the third period. Winnipeg walked into a hostile, raucous environment and won it’s first game 7 for the Thrashers/Jets ever.
The Jets came out of the gates kicking and screaming, putting up a quick 2-0 spot on against the Preds. Moreover, the Jets more or less dominated at even-strength, leading in high-danger scoring chances 3-1. Before the first goal, Winnipeg was cutting through the neutral zone quickly and disrupted Nashville’s aerial zone passes that trickled deep into the Jets defensive zone. Winnipeg’s D quickly rolled back to retrieve pucks and send breakout passes forward before the Nashville forecheck could properly set up an attack.
Winnipeg’s first goal came courtesy of Tyler Myers at the 8:41 mark. A poor puck clearance by Nashville led to Myers pinching in the zone and he dropped below the goal line, tossing a shot at the side of the net. What should have been a harmless save suddenly deflected off of opposing goalie Pekka Rinne’s left pad and into the net. Pekka didn’t have the post sealed off and paid dearly for it, granting the Jets a quick lead.
Just over 2 minutes later, Paul Stastny backhanded the puck behind Rinne on a second-chance rebound after he shot the puck in tight off of Rinne’s right pad and drew Rinne off the post. The D behind Stastny failed to clear the puck from Stastny’s stick and just like that, 2-0 Winnipeg. Out came Rinne, in went back-up Juuse Saros.
All was not sunshine and rainbows, however. The Jets took a Andrew Copp minor earlier in the period and escaped unscathed, generating a few shorthanded chances against with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. The second minor penalty, drawn by P.K. Subban on a Kyle Connor crosscheck, resulted in a Subban rocket from the point. The Jets PKers collapsed into the slot and Ryan Johansen tossed a no-look pass backwards to a waiting Subban, who thundered a slapshot over goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s right shoulder. The score was now 2-1, and remained that way for the rest of the period.
Winnipeg wasn’t content to rest on the laurels of a 2-1 lead, and sought the hallowed insurance goal. The second period continued much of the trends from the first, where Winnipeg generally disrupted Nashville’s zone time and breakouts. On the opportunities Nashville did get, however, they generated quite a few chances in the low slot. Mercifully, Hellebuyck was up to the task and turned away the slowly-surging Preds offense.
Several busted plays with 3 minutes left in the period, and Winnipeg took advantage of an odd-man situation to put the Jets up 3-1. Scheifele one-timed a beautiful feed from Wheeler after the Preds slot D got caught cheating to cover Wheeler. It’s the sort of goal that’s usually a back-breaker, but Josh Morrissey took a neutral zone interference penalty to keep Craig Smith from creating an odd-man rush. Winnipeg killed off half the penalty, but half still remained for the third frame.
The Preds did everything they could to claw back into this game. Down 1-3, Nashville surged in the third period to desperately try and salvage the situation. Hellebuyck said “NO!” time and again, putting up one of his quietly best performances of the series to seal the victory. 36 saves on 37 shots in a game 7 victory will be yet one more note on Hellebuyck’s growing list of achievements.
A late slashing minor by Johansen put the Jets on the power play for the first time in the game and Winnipeg Legend Paul Stastny tucked a loose rebound off a Patrik Laine shot past Saros. The Preds continued to pressure and surge, but to no avail. With the Preds net empty, Scheifele cashed in his league-leading 11th playoff goal and finished the night for the triumphant kids from Winnipeg.
- Winnipeg should be proud of this win. The team walked into a difficult road arena and put on one of their best even-strength showings of the series. They found a way past Rinne and Saros, sealing off a sweet, sweet series win. On to Vegas.
- Paul Stastny is the best trade deadline acquisition in ages. If Winnipeg can reasonably find a way to bring him back next season, do it.
- Connor Hellebuyck had a Helleva game. While the first 2 periods were relatively quiet, the third was a hot mess of netfront chaos for him to contend with.
- Winnipeg genuinely shut the Preds offense down, especially early on. Nashville could not apply any offensive pressure in the zone or successfully execute its breakouts. The Jets were marvelous in disrupting that.
- The top-4 D got a big workout tonight. Quite a few minutes doled out to Byfuglien in particular, who played over 25 minutes. Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey saw a more modest 20 minutes apiece.
- The third D pairing needs to see less time. A lot of Nashville’s pressure in the defensive zone came off of poor clearances and turnovers from Chiarot and Myers. While they can be used in the offensive zone, asking them to contain speedy forechecking skaters is a mistake.
- The Vegas Golden Knights lie in wait this coming Saturday. Backed by a scorching-hot Marc-Andre Fleury and a dangerous top-6, the Jets will have their hands full in the Conference Finals.
- ......sorry, it just hit me that the Jets are in the Conference Finals.
- Savor this feeling, Winnipeg. This is a rare run, and the start of something great for the Jets.
- GO JETS GO!