Jets shake off slow start, beat Predators in Game 3

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Maybe it took seeing their crowd get silenced after the Nashville Predators went up 3-0 through the first period. Maybe Paul Maurice tore paint off the walls during a locker room speech. Maybe it was just a matter of time before we saw the full might of the Winnipeg Jets.

Whatever fueled that outburst, the Jets’ second period effort was a sight to behold. They turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead and transformed a quiet audience into the raucous atmosphere people expected. Ultimately, Winnipeg beat Nashville 7-4 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.

That margin of victory was enhanced by two empty-net goals, and the score was close even when the ice seemed titled in the Jets’ favor.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Blake Wheeler had been knocking on the door for much of Tuesday night, and he was finally rewarded with the game-winner on the power play with about five minutes remaining in the third period. Tabbing a best Jet might come down to preference. Wheeler scored two goals and one assist. Dustin Byfuglien was a catalyst for that second-period surge, dancing his way to two goals and an assist of his own. Jacob Trouba, Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine all made big plays to spark Winnipeg’s rally.

Goalie Connor Hellebuyck also showed that he can shake off a tough stretch. After giving up three goals on 12 shots during that rocky first period, Hellebuyck only allowed a Filip Forsberg rocket the rest of the way.

He’s not the only goalie who will need a short memory in this series.

Tough loss for the Predators

Pekka Rinne made some big stops to keep Nashville within striking distance for much of this game, yet he’s also allowed nine goals during the past two games and 13 goals so far in this series. Rinne has his fair share of critics, so expect at least some rumblings about his psyche.

Rinne’s issues in Game 3 weren’t limited to goals allowed.

Less than 30 seconds after Wheeler’s 5-4 goal (the eventual game-winner), Rinne was whistled for slashing Adam Lowry. It was in retaliation to a swat by Lowry, but Rinne’s windup was the sort that was likely to draw an official’s eye:

This subplot combines two concerns for the Predators, depending upon whom you ask. The first is Rinne’s perceived up-and-down play, which is debatable. The more black-and-white worry was about Nashville’s discipline, and the Predators were on the wrong end of the whistles late in Game 3.

The Predators received the final three penalties of the contest, and four of the final five. That Rinne penalty happened after the Jets went up in the third period, making Nashville’s task of tying the contest up that much tougher. Overall, special teams worked out reasonably well for the Predators (Nashville went 2-for-4 on the power play while Winnipeg went 1-for-5), but that’s an area that Peter Laviolette really needs to monitor.

(The Predators were the NHL’s most penalized team during the regular season.)

In tonight’s case, the Jets showed that they can roll with the punches under the microscope of playoff competition. The Predators have done that before, but they’ll face a steep challenge in doing so against a team as talented, versatile, and mean as the Jets.

If the rest of this series follows the trend of the first three games, it should be fun to watch and very difficult to predict.

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Game 4 of this entertaining, feisty series takes place on NBCSN on Thursday, with puck drop slated for 9:30 p.m. ET. You can catch the livestream here.

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.