Hellebuyck torments Predators; Jets take Game 1


Instead of being a back-and-forth goaltending duel, the opening battle of Connor Hellebuyck against Pekka Rinne felt like a country remix of “Hamilton.” The Winnipeg Jets embraced the role of Aaron Burr, beating the Predators 4-1 in Nashville to take a 1-0 series lead.

The Predators probably felt like they were throwing away their shots against Hellebuyck on Friday. A lot of them.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Hellebuyck turned away all 36 shots on goal through the first two lopsided periods, silencing what’s frequently a raucous crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Kevin Fiala eventually got to him, but by then Pekka Rinne was already on the bench for the night. Hellebuyck made 47 out of 48 saves overall. Winnipeg only mustered 19 shots on goal in this win.

As you might expect, some of the more eye-popping stats related to the Predators firing a lot of pucks at Hellebuyck and the American-born goalie stopping almost all of them. The Minnesota Wild likely feel the Predators’ pain, as Hellebuyck’s shutout streak extended to the previous series:

Sure, you could argue that there might be some “quantity over quality” involved, but when the numbers are this lopsided, you take notice (and Rinne looks worse by comparison).

While it’s frustrating – if “extremely playoff hockey” – for the Predators to dominate the shot clock so thoroughly but fall behind 1-0 in the series, it wasn’t all bad news. Nashville looked impressive for several stretches after an up-and-down series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Also, it seems like Ryan Ellis is OK after a scary moment when he took Ben Chiarot‘s skate to his face:

(Note: “OK” in relative hockey terms. His face probably really hurts right now.)

While the Predators feel snakebitten, the Jets’ swagger has to be taking off. Winnipeg is a scary opponent for a plethora of reasons; in the case of Game 1, hockey fans saw evidence that their top-end scorers can turn the tide even when they’re being outplayed.

It’s likely too early to drum up a goalie controversy between Pekka Rinne and his outstanding backup Juuse Saros (who was barely tested as the Jets merely protected their lead in the third period). Still, plenty of people will wonder about Rinne’s confidence, or perhaps the Predators’ confidence in Rinne.

At least, there might be some doubts about Rinne against an opponent of the Jets’ caliber. Simply put, there could be a very small margin of error against a series that arguably pits the two most complete teams in the NHL against each other.

The Predators don’t need to panic just yet, but they need to find answers, whether the questions revolving around beating Hellebuyck in the Jets’ net or maintaining the composure of the guy in their own net.

Game 2 airs at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Sunday. Here’s the livestream link.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.