EditorsNote: adds Rinne and Wheeler quotes
In what has been advertised as a track meet on skates, the Nashville Predators never let the Winnipeg Jets get out of the starter’s block on Thursday night.
Pekka Rinne stopped 32 shots as Nashville evened the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal at two games each with a 2-1 win at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Tennessee, and the Predators have wrested home-ice advantage back in the matchup of the NHL’s two best teams during the regular season.
Ryan Hartman and P.K. Subban scored goals for Nashville, which ceded 15 goals in the series’ first three games. However, the Predators used changes in personnel and adopted a more defensive style to keep the explosive Jets shackled.
Cutting down on turnovers while providing more consistent puck support, the Predators steered Winnipeg away from the middle of the ice and forced the Jets to settle mostly for shots from long range. The insertion of veteran forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Yannick Weber also provided the blend of physical play and better neutral-zone discipline Nashville needed.
“His experience calmed everybody down,” Rinne said of Hartnell, according to CBC Sports. “He was one of the key guys for us on the forecheck and making smart plays.”
The Jets nearly scored the first goal, but a scrambling Rinne used the knob of his stick to deny a rebound chance from Josh Morrissey at the left post. Later in the first period, Rinne made a quick lateral move to the left post and smothered a wrister from Patrik Laine.
Hartman put Nashville ahead for good at 17:20 of the opening period by roofing a point-blank wrister over goalie Connor Hellebuyck for his second goal of the playoffs. Hartman also notched the game-winner when the Predators edged Winnipeg 6-5 on Feb. 27, the last time the Jets lost at home.
Subban tallied his third of the series on the power play at 14:36 of the second period. Filip Forsberg teed him up between the circles for a one-timer through a Viktor Arvidsson jump screen. It was Subban’s fifth point in the past three games.
Laine got the Jets on the board with Subban in the box at 19:09 of the third period by squeezing a wrister from the left circle through Rinne’s pads, but Winnipeg couldn’t equalize.
Hellebuyck finished with 27 saves.
“We don’t change anything (moving forward in the series),” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. “I think our group has responded all year long, and not for a second did we think coming into this series we were going to breeze through it. ... It has not been an easy year — a lot of adversity all year — and we’ve answered the bell every single time, so I’m excited about Game 5.”
—Field Level Media