Late goals push Jets past Predators
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was effusive in his praise of the Nashville Predators following the teams’ Tuesday night matchup.
“They require you to play a pretty good game,” he said. “That’s the best team we’ve played all year.”
However, Wheeler’s team doesn’t have to take a back seat to the Predators, or many others.
Winnipeg scored twice in the last 1:26 to earn a 6-4 victory at sold-out Bridgestone Arena, avenging a November loss which wasn’t as close as the 5-3 outcome suggests.
Brandon Tanev’s wrister from a sharp angle on the left wing beat goalie Pekka Rinne for the tiebreaking tally.
Wheeler tacked on an empty-netter at 19:58 as the Jets (20-10-5) moved within a point of Nashville (21-8-4) and idle St. Louis (22-11-2) for first place in the stacked Central Division.
Other than the third period’s first 10 minutes, when the Predators erased a 4-3 deficit with Yannick Weber’s first goal 30 seconds in, Winnipeg drove play. It had a 36-34 edge in shots on goal overall, won a majority of puck battles and handed the Predators just their third regulation loss at home this season.
“It’s tough to score goals in this league, especially against a team like that,” Wheeler said. “You never feel like you can quite establish yourself. One mistake and it can be five-on-three the other way. You can see why that team was a game or two away from winning the Stanley Cup last year.”
However, the Jets picked up the two points, thanks to Tanev’s dogged effort on the go-ahead marker. Tanev skated down the left side against defenseman Roman Josi, who forced him wide, but Tanev’s wrister eluded Rinne (18-5-3) for just his third goal in 35 games. To that point, the Nashville goalie played a better game than the stats would suggest.
Tanev said he benefited from a little luck on his shot.
“The ice wasn’t too good, so I just threw a shot on the net,” he said. “I got a bounce and it went through his legs.”
Nashville employed a sixth attacker for most of the final 80 seconds, but Wheeler ended the suspense with his ninth goal from his defensive zone as Winnipeg won a shootout between two of the league’s highest-scoring teams.
Adam Lowry initiated scoring for the Jets at 8:05 of the first period, getting to the rebound of Tyler Myers’ point shot after it trickled behind Rinne. Lowry shoveled it home for his sixth goal.
The Predators responded with two goals in the period’s last minute. Calle Jarnkrok tallied his eighth when his wrister from a bad angle struck a skate and got past Connor Hellebuyck at 19:19, followed by a Kevin Fiala snipe 21 seconds later. It was Fiala’s ninth goal and marked the fourth straight game that he lit the lamp.
The Jets tied it at 6:54 of the second period after Patrik Laine undressed defenseman Alexei Emelin at the blue line, walked into the right circle and wired a wrister by Rinne for his 17th goal.
Nashville regained the lead at 7:55 on the power play when P.K. Subban bombed a one-timer off the crossbar and over the goal line for his seventh goal. Nikolaj Ehlers erased the edge 30 seconds later with the tying goal, then made it 4-3 Winnipeg with a man-advantage tally at 16:00 for his 17th goal.
Weber, who took the penalty that led to Ehlers’ second marker, delivered surprising redemption to even the game. His one-timer from the left circle was his first goal since Dec. 30, 2016, at St. Louis, and seemed to rev up the Predators’ level of play.
However, Winnipeg regained traction and then came up with the final flurry to post what some might see as a statement win.
“We turned it on in the third a bit,” Weber said. “We showed some character, but I don’t think we would have deserved that win.”
Both Hellebuyck (18-4-4) and Rinne made 30 saves.
NOTES: Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice will work his 1,400th career NHL game on Thursday night in Boston. ... Nashville C Ryan Johansen entered with 10 goals and 10 assists in 15 career games against the Jets, and he picked up an assist on D P.K. Subban’s goal in the second period. ... Winnipeg scratched LW Shawn Matthias, C Marko Dano and D Julian Melchiori. ... Nashville scratched D Anthony Bitetto, RW Miikka Salomaki and LW Cody McLeod.