The Winnipeg Jets had a perfect chance to become Central Division champions on Monday night. But they blew it. And they blew it in a big way.
Playing in front of an absolute full house -- with one-time Jets hero Teemu Selanne in attendance, no less -- the Jets played a rare, uninspired home game against a team with its back against the wall and fell 4-0 to the desperate and inspired Nashville Predators.
The Jets had only been shut out twice this season -- never at home -- but on Monday night, they were not only shut out, they lost their second straight home game after going 32-7-2 at Bell MTS Place during the regular season. The best home record during the season has turned into a mediocre 4-2 in the post-season.
This was a game that belonged to the Predators top line of Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson. They were the best trio on the ice all night and not only did they account for all four goals, they did it in style. They were all plus four as Forsberg had two goals and an assist, Johansen had two assists and Arvidsson had two goals.
As the Predators won easily and forced a seventh and deciding game -- Thursday night in Nashville -- the Washington Capitals made sure there will be a new Stanley Cup champion this year. The Capitals beat Pittsburgh 2-1 in overtime in Pittsburgh and eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins from the playoffs. Washington won the series 4-2 and advanced to play Tampa in the Eastern Conference final.
But that didn't matter much to the 23,000 people outside the downtown rink who showed up for a street party and got a less than satisfying effort from their beloved Jets.
It's hard to imagine how tight and mistake-prone Winnipeg played.
The Jets came out to another loud, raucous, white-clad crowd, but for some inexplainable reason, they were flat. Pancake flat. Then, when Viktor Arvidsson tipped in a shot from the point by Roman Josi that fooled Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and gave Nashville a 1-0 lead just a minute and two seconds into the game, the Jets just looked out of it.
Granted, Paul Stastny and Bryan Little each had superb scoring chances, in close on the Nashville net, but Pekka Rinne was more than equal to the task.
Before the first period ended, the Jets had three power plays and got a grand total of two shots on goal. Nashville had two shots shorthanded. It was really hard to watch as Nashville trapped in the neutral zone, lined four players across their own blue line and stifled the Jets on almost every rush. Despite having three power plays to none for Nashville, the shots were even at 10-10.
In the second period, the Jets outshot Nashville 9-7 and had four or five great scoring chances, but the Predators scored the only goal. Filip Forsberg outmuscled Tyler Myers at the Jets blue line, went in on Hellebuyck down the right wing and beat the Jets goaltender high under the bar. That made it 2-0 and the Jets looked done.
Filip Forsberg scores the goal of the night to put the Jets away.
Forsberg scored his second of the night and seventh of the playoffs at 4:55, right after the Jets had suffered through another horrible power play. Forsberg was left alone in front, made a great move between his legs and beat Hellebuyck to make it 3-0.
Arvidsson put an end to Winnipeg's misery by scoring his second of the night at 15:58 into an empty net. After the goal, Patrik Laine shot the puck at Arvidsson and then Dustin Byfuglien picked up a roughing penalty protecting Laine. It was just a bad night.
The Jets outshot the Predators 34-29, but Pekka Rinne bounced back after a lousy effort on Saturday and rose to the occasion. Winnipeg went zero-for-four on the power play while Nashville went zero-for-one. Forsberg (1), Rinne (2) and Arvidsson (3) were the three stars.
Game 7 will be played Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The winner will face the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.
By Scott Taylor
Photo by Jeff Miller