Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Jets Emerge From Firefight

Despite me using an image from the movie Top Gun, I assure you there will be no wisecracks about Tom Cruise, "Maverick", "Goose", "Iceman", or anything else from the film. Instead, this article will be about Game Three of the Nashville-Winnipeg series where things looked like they were headed well off the rails before the Jets came roaring back like a freight train barreling down the tracks. At the end of the game, the Jets emerged victorious with a 7-4 win, but it looked anything like the score indicated if one chose to leave the game after the opening frame.

Make no mistake that I believe the Nashville Predators did exactly what they needed to do to build an incredible road lead through the first period. They skated hard, won a ton of puck battles, got pucks to the net, fought for rebounds, and made life extremely difficult for the team in blue.

It started with Mike Fisher poking home a rebound that squeaked through Connor Hellebuyck's legs after Ryan Hartman got a stick on the initial shot from Aaron Ekholm, and the Predators were off and running at 4:53 with the 1-0 lead. Much to the chagrin of Winnipeg fans who had booed him throughout the opening ten minutes, PK Subban ripped a shot past Hellebuyck on the power-play to put Nashville out in front 2-0 at 10:06. And just to make matters a little worse for everyone not wearing a shade of yellow, Austin Watson continued his spring of scoring as he found the net behind Hellebuyck at 17:35 with a rather skillful shot that rang off the post and in off the far post.

As the players filtered down the tunnel and into the dressing room for the intermission, there was very little joy inside BellMTS Place or at the WhiteOut party outside the arena as the best road team in the NHL staked a solid lead through one period. Sportsnet's Scott Oake spoke with Paul Stastny and, surprisingly, he seemed very upbeat in delivering a message to the fans that there was still a lot of hockey to be played.

While hope may spring eternal in that intermission, the league's best road team had a three-goal lead. The Jets needed a monster effort, and it had to start the moment they took to the ice. Could Hellebuyck recover from a shaky first period to keep his team in this game?

Would you believe the guy who spoke about there being a lot of hockey to be played scored just 2:38 into the period? The Jets looked like a different team when the period opened, and it was a Jacob Trouba blast that deflected off Paul Stastny's leg and past Rinne that cut the deficit to 3-1. And then a scrum that saw Austin Watson hammer Blake Wheeler into the boards followed by Mark Scheifele face-washing and pulling Watson down at the same time at 4:31 put the teams into a four-on-four situation where Winnipeg locked the crosshairs onto Rinne.

First, a bullet off the stick of Dustin Byfuglien got past a screened Rinne at 5:11 and the crowd was buzzing as the Jets cut Nashville's lead to one goal. And then 18 seconds later, this happened.
To quote the great Bob Cole, "Ohhhhhh, baby!"

Trouba's goal re-ignited the crowd, tied the game, and seemed to rattle the Predators as they looked a step behind for the remainder of the period. And it seemed like we were headed to a third period where a winner would be decided until Dustin Byfuglien made his presence felt once more.
Dustin Byfuglien's second goal of the period came at 19:15, and the old Phone Booth was rocking as the Jets claimed a 4-3 lead heading into the second intermission with four second-period goals!

And can we stop for a second and marvel at the pass that Patrik Laine made? There has been much said about how Laine hasn't found the back of the net past fellow Finn Pekka Rinne, but good players find a way to get on the scoresheet. Laine, who everyone was expecting to shoot the puck off that rebound, one-touched that pass some 50-feet across the ice with Ryan Ellis standing in front of him into the wheelhouse and onto the tape of Dustin Byfuglien who one-timed it past Rinne. That pass was spectacular, and it goes to show that for as good as Laine is when he shoots the puck, he's also one helluva playmaker!

We went from a nearly silent arena in the first intermission to an insane crowd preparing for a third period where it seemed like anything could happen. Winnipeg seemed to sit back a bit as the Predators looked to be the aggressors, and that approach paid off as they went to the power-play after Jack Roslovic hauled down Colton Scissons at the 6:50 mark. 50 seconds later, Filip Forsberg had scored on the power-play to make it 4-4, and there was a sense that we could be headed for a second consecutive 5-4 overtime game.

PK Subban would be whistled for high-sticking Nikolaj Ehlers at 14:01, and one man - who had seemingly been snake-bitten all night - wanted nothing to do with overtime.
Blake Wheeler scored from a sharp angle at 15:01, and the Jets reclaimed their one-goal lead over the Predators at 5-4. Would that be enough?

A pair of empty-net goals by Wheeler and Brandon Tanev would propel the Jets past the Predators by a 7-4 score, but make no mistake that this game was really a story of two periods as Nashville looked to be firmly in control before the Jets exploded offensively in the second period.

The victory puts the Jets up 2-1 in the series as both teams now prepare for Game Four on Thursday in Winnipeg where the Jets have not lost since February 27 when, coincidentally, Nashville beat them. The Predators need to snap that win streak by the Jets if they hope to return home tied 2-2 in the series. Another loss could be devastating for the reigning Western Conference champions, so Game Four might be Nashville's first must-win of the playoffs!

To all Winnipeg employers, I suspect that if the Jets win on Thursday, there may be a lot of absences on Friday. Let it go and don't make too much of it. I have a feeling that there may be parties and celebrations going late into the night if the Jets go up 3-1, so let's just call Friday a write-off if things go well.

After all, Winnipeg has never had this much success in the playoffs since the 1970s!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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