EditorsNote: adds quotes from Wheeler, Stastny and Rinne
Home-ice advantage was no advantage in the matchup of the NHL’s two best regular-season teams.
Paul Stastny and Mark Scheifele scored two goals each Thursday night, and the Winnipeg Jets won their first Game 7 since moving from Atlanta seven years ago, eliminating the Nashville Predators from the Western Conference semifinals with a 5-1 verdict at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Tyler Myers also tallied for Winnipeg, while Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves, including 21 in the third period.
The Jets will host the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night in Game 1 of the conference finals — Winnipeg’s first-ever trip to the third round of the NHL playoffs.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said, “I think we came in with a lot of confidence. We knew we had a deep group with a lot of talent. We had to go through a little bit of adversity early in the season, but we have played with a lot of confidence ever since.
“We played our best games under adversity. (Bridgestone Arena is) such a tough atmosphere, a lot like our building. We were real happy with our start, gave us a chance to win the game.”
P.K. Subban scored the only goal for the Predators, who became the ninth President’s Trophy winner in the last 10 years to not win the Stanley Cup. Chicago was the only team to pull off the double in 2013, which was a lockout-shortened season.
Myers initiated the scoring at 8:41 of the first period with a wrister from the far right goal line that somehow squeezed between the post and goalie Pekka Rinne, his third of the playoffs. Stastny made it 2-0 at 10:47 with a rebound, also at a bad angle.
At that point, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette hooked Rinne for the third time in the series and inserted Juuse Saros. Rinne left with five saves on seven shots.
“Obviously, (I) feel responsible for the season ending at this point,” Rinne said. “I can’t point at anything. Felt good, no injuries, totally healthy. The biggest moment of the season ... it’s a terrible feeling. You let your teammates down. It’s tough to swallow. ...
“Obviously, two terrible goals at the wrong time. You feel good, first shot of the game, you make a good save on the wraparound. There’s no excuses. That’s a huge disappointment.”
The goalie change seemed to pay off for a while. Subban bombed home a one-timer on a power play at 15:54 of the first for his fourth goal of the series. Saros made a series of tough saves during the first 15 minutes of the second period, robbing Stastny at the doorstep.
However, steady Winnipeg pressure paid off at 17:50 of the second when Blake Wheeler teed up Scheifele in the left circle. Scheifele wired a wrister past Saros to restore a two-goal lead.
Stastny upped the margin to 4-1 with a man-advantage marker at 11:59 of the third period, and Scheifele tacked on his 11th goal of the postseason into an empty net at 17:27.
Stastny, a 32-year-old veteran, said of his pregame attitude, “Don’t have any regrets. As you get older, you realize how hard it is to win. You do everything you can for one team, and then you feel you’re letting that team down, but you just want to win.
“I knew how hard they were to play against. Just trying to be cool and calm.”
Scheifele scored seven goals in the series — all in Nashville.
Saros stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced.
—Field Level Media