By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder
On Friday evening the Winnipeg Jets hosted Central Division rival Nashville Predators for the first of two meetings between the two squads in March.
The game provided all that one would expect of last season’s second round Western Conference matchup.
In all likelihood, the Predators and Jets will potentially match up again in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the 5-3 win, Winnipeg leapfrogged Nashville for first place in the Central Division, with three games in hand.
The first period flew by as a high-tempo, high-action opening 20 minutes. The Jets led the Preds in the shot department 11-10 – thanks in large part to two first period power plays. However, it was the visitors who walked into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
Following some poor defensive zone coverage, Nashville jumped on a loose puck, where Viktor Arvidsson was left all alone in the high slot. He put a wrist shot through netminder Laurent Brossoit short side, handing the Preds a 1-0 lead with 4:39 to go.
Winnipeg thought they had the game tied up on a rebound goal from Kyle Connor with three minutes left, but Preds’ Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged offside on the game-tying-goal. Laviolette’s challenge proved effective, as it was determined that the puck entered the Nashville zone illegally.
The Predators added to their lead in the second period, as Mathieu Perreault found himself in the penalty box for tripping PK Subban. The fiery Nashville blueliner got his revenge just 11 seconds later, blasting a Ryan Johansen offering past Brossoit from the point, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Although momentarily showing some signs of fatigue, Winnipeg bounced back rather nicely with two goals in two-and-a-half minutes to round out the second period.
Mark Scheifele got things going with just under four minutes to play on the man advantage, as the Jets caught two Nashville forwards up ice and made their defence pay. Blake Wheeler carried the puck into the zone before finding Scheifele near the goal. He put his 32nd past Rinne on a backhand shot from in tight.
With the crowd behind them, the Jets added another in the form of Kyle Connor’s 25th. After Nik Ehlers brought the puck into the slot, Connor stepped up and hammered it off his stick and to the twine, tying the game at twos. Winnipeg added to its shot lead, finishing off the frame up 26-21 through 40 minutes.
The first goal of the third period came nearly three quarters of the way in, as Mark Scheifele found Blake Wheeler on a beautiful stretch pass, resulting in the Jets’ captain’s 13th of the season. His goal was met with one of the biggest emotional displays of celebratory reaction displayed in recent memory.
With 1:46 to go and the Predators’ net empty, Tyler Myers gave the Jets a two-goal lead with an empty net marker. Mattias Ekholm then got one back for Nashville, but Kevin Hayes responded with his first goal as a Jet, picking up his third point of the game into the Nashville empty net, sealing the deal for Winnipeg.
Jets’ netminder Laurent Brossoit had himself a phenomenal game filling in for the ill Connor Hellebuyck. He made four-straight stops in tight on a goal-mouth scramble in the second period alone, before robbing the visitors on back-to-back shots early in the third period. He finished the night with 35 saves, picking up his 11th win of the season in the process.
Following Friday’s game, the Jets hit the road for a four-game Eastern Conference road trip. The week-long heater features stops in Columbus, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington, before returning home for three games. First up is a 6:00 PM central showdown in Columbus with Matt Duchene and the Blue Jackets. The Sunday evening contest is available on Sportsnet.