The Winnipeg Jets will have a chance to move on to the Western Conference Finals at home on Monday. After a 6-2 thrashing of the Nashville Predators on the road Saturday night, the Jets will look to finish off their Central Division rivals back home at Bell MTS Place.
Winnipeg got off to a slow start, ending the first period 0-0, and down on the shot chart, but it was in the second period where the visitors really showed their worth. Although the teams combined for six goals in just 10 minutes, Winnipeg picked up four of those second period markers, leading 4-2 after 40 minutes.
Paul Stastny got things started for Winnipeg as he redirected a Patrik Laine shot past Pekka Rinne midway through frame. Nashville responded shortly after with a Yannick Weber wrist shot goal.
Winnipeg then exploded for three goals in five minutes as Dustin Byfuglien hammered a one-timer from the point past a heavily screened Rink, while Kyle Connor picked up his first and second career playoff goals - en route to a two goal, three point effort - the most in Atlanta/Winnipeg rookie playoff history.
The Predators found some life shortly after as Ryan Johansen picked up a bouncing puck in his own end while shorthanded, and took it the distance, before beating Hellebuyck squarely, pulling Nashville within two.
The third period began perfectly for Winnipeg as Mark Scheifele collected his ninth of the playoffs just 28 seconds into the final period. Mathieu Perreault - making his return to the lineup - banked in a power play marker six minutes later, ultimately doing the Predators in.
The goal was Perreault's first postseason goal since April of 2014.
Hellebuyck performed well in the final 20 minutes, shutting the door on all Nashville chances, while helping his teammates to a 6-2 victory in the daunting Bridgestone Arena.
Winnipeg's power play looked great Saturday evening, as the addition of Perreault added some options on the second unit. The only flutter came when Laine bobbled the loose puck, leading to Nashville's second goal. Other than some initial nervous moments in the first period, goaltending also appeared to be in top form.
Nashville Head Coach, Peter Laviolette removed Rinne from the Preds' net following Perreault's goal in order to rest up his starter for the upcoming game six in Winnipeg, Monday.
It was a rare scene in Nashville Saturday, as Bridgestone's lower bowl looked more navy blue than gold by the early stages of the third period. With the home team down by a handful, the fans flocked to the exits faster than they had originally walked in.
The Mark Scheifele - Kyle Connor - Blake Wheeler line combined for eight points in the game, bringing their total up to 22 points in the series, and will look to boost those totals at home on Monday.
"We just kept doing what we were doing," Scheifele said following the game. "Obviously they had their pressure, they had their chances, but we kept getting behind their defence and kept sticking to our gameplan and it worked."
When asked about the relief that his linemate Connor must have felt in finally scoring his first of the playoffs, Scheifele added the following.
"You know, he's been awesome all series, and they just weren't going in for him." he said. "It just shows his character; they weren't going in for him and it was a big game for him today. He just kept on shooting and kept going to the right areas. That just shows his character and his skill level right there."
With temperatures expected to reach 29 degrees celsius in Winnipeg Monday afternoon, the Winnipeg Whiteout street party should be the greatest yet. An expanded area, larger television screens, more venders and warmer weather will certainly be welcomed additions to the already bumpin' playoff party.
Winnipeg Harvest will be collecting donations at each of the entrances to the arena, while bins will also be set up at various locations throughout the street party. Puck drop is set for 8:30 P.M., while the party gets underway at 6:00 P.M. central time.
Now up three-games-to-two, the Winnipeg Jets can clinch home ice advantage for the remainder of the playoffs with a victory over first place Nashville on Monday.
By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder