Jets’ Connor goes off, pushes Predators to the brink

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Few can stop the Winnipeg Jets once they get going.

And so while the Nashville Predators — the NHL’s best team in the regular season and a team with arguably the best defensive corps in all the land — seem to have the tools necessary for cessation, they simply, like many other teams, couldn’t stop the boulder that is the Jets offense once it dislodged from its standstill.

Now, the Jets are on the verge of the Western Conference Final with a 6-2 win on Saturday and will have a chance to close out the series with the backing of the Whiteout in Winnipeg on Monday night.

Saturday’s game will be referred to be Jets fans (and begrudgingly by Predators fans) as the Kyle Connor Show, and for good reason.

Connor paced all rookies in goal-scoring this season but hadn’t found the back of the net in nine playoff games coming into Saturdays’ tilt.

The Michigan product made sure that streak didn’t extend to 10, picking a great time to pot not just his first career playoff goal, but also his second as the Jets found the back of the net four times in the second period.

Winnipeg’s onslaught began with Paul Stastny standing in front of the net and allowing Patrik Laine to wire a wrist shot off him into the back of the net. It was briefly halted by Yannick Weber but resumed shortly thereafter with both of Connor’s goals bookmarking Dustin Byfuglien‘s fourth of the playoffs.

Connor showed he can do more than score, making Ryan Johansen just a pawn in his game with one of the filthier moves of the playoffs.

Pekka Rinne received a mercy pull for the second time in the series after allowing six goals on 26 shots. He can’t take all of the blame — Nashville’s defense on the night was porous at best — but he needs more performances like Game 4 if the Predators are going to force Game 7.

Fellow Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck bailed the Jets out in the first period as the Predators pushed for an opener and finished with 38 saves.

Monday night’s Whiteout in Winnipeg is going to be next-level.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators’ Fiala notches winner in double overtime to even series with Jets

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Ryan Johansen called Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round between his Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets a must-win.

A little early for the distinction? Perhaps. But the thought of heading back to Winnipeg — and into the Whiteout — down 2-0 had to be a daunting thought.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

In a game defined by the resiliency of both teams, it was the Predators who outlasted the Jets as Kevin Fiala scored on a deke past Connor Hellebuyck on a 2-on-1 rush at 5:45 of double overtime even the best-of-7 series 1-1.

Simply put, it was a massive goal, a massive win and maybe a little redemption after a dominant performance in Game 1 left the Predators wanting in Friday’s 4-1 loss.

The majority of the 25:45 of free hockey that was played was a lesson in how manic the game of hockey can be. Chances, near-misses, desperate saves — all contained in some of the most exciting hockey thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The game arrived in overtime after a frantic battle between two determined teams in regulation.

If Game 1 didn’t live up to the hype after a lopsided game one way resulted in an unlikely win in the other direction, Game 2 certainly made up for it.

Mark Scheifele‘s goal with 1:05 remaining in the third period, with Winnipeg’s net vacant, capped it off and ensured the hype train would keep chugging along.

Prior to that, Johansen scored his second goal of the night to give the Predators a 4-3 lead with 14 minutes and change remaining in the game.

His first came two periods earlier, just 27 seconds into the game to give the Preds a quick 1-0 lead. The lead wouldn’t hold and the Jets scored twice in 29 seconds before the period was through, including Scheifele’s first of the game.

Nashville rallied in the second period, scoring twice to take a 3-2 lead into the third period. Brandon Tanev tied the game at 5:11 of the third, only to watch from the bench as the Johansen scored a beauty 34 seconds later to retake the lead, one that would last until Scheifele’s crucial equalizer at 18:55.

Pekka Rinne made 46 saves when it was all said and done, just 48 hours after he was removed from Game 1 following a poor outing.

Game 3 of the series shifts to Winnipeg on Tuesday night


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

MacKinnon, Avalanche continue home success in Game 3 win

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In Game 2, the Colorado Avalanche looked like they could compete with the Nashville Predators.

Game 1 was a bit of a wash after initially taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. But with some time to get to know their first-round foes, the Avs appeared to start to sort out the puzzle in their second meeting of the best-of-7 series.

Better goaltending would help and a sprinkling of improved team defense would certainly go a long way to getting the Avs back into a series they trailed 2-0 coming into Monday’s action.

And, of course, a return to Pepsi Center, where the Avs were far more Jekyll than they were Hyde during the regular season, something that PHT’s James O’Brien pointed out on Monday and something that rang true when the final buzzer sounded in a 5-3 win for Colorado.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Indeed, the Avs were simply very good at home during the regular season with a record of 28-11-2, compared to their unappealing 15-19-7 spread on the road. Their road woes were evident in Games 1 and 2, just as their success at home was apparent on Monday.

Nathan MacKinnon, who scored 67 points in 39 home games during the regular season, was back at it with two goals in the win. The home/away disparity existed with MacKinnon as well, as he had 30 points in 35 away games this season.

But through three games, MacKinnon is sitting at a healthy five points. His first goal was a lesson in not allowing him in on a breakaway. His second was a tale of what happens when you give the man a second in the slot.

For Pekka Rinne, that second goal spelled the end of his night.

Game 3 has proven to be kryptonite for a few teams that came into them with a 2-0 series lead. The Winnipeg Jets dropped a 6-2 decision to the Wild after going up 2-0. The Bruins and Lightning followed along on Monday, each missing an opportunity to put a stranglehold on their respective series with losses.

The biggest question remaining for Colorado is if they can replicate their quick start and hold onto it in Game 4. And then, can they win two more against the Presidents’ Trophy winners?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rinne, Predators hand Blues their sixth straight loss in 4-0 win

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The thought of the St. Louis Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs a couple months ago would have been brushed fiercely, and with good reason.

Even with a packed infirmary, the Blues managed to hang with the big boys atop the Central Division, a testament to their depth. Everything was pretty much status quo, what we’ve come to expect from the Blues as a perennial playoff team with lots of talent.

And then the wheels fell off.

The Blues lost their sixth straight game on Sunday, a 4-0 defeat to a Nashville Predators team that they previously shared a table with in the NHL’s toughest division.

Now, the Blues are now fighting for a playoff spot. They sit a point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third in the Central Division.

The Blues are now 0-5-1 in their past six and have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their past 10 games, including being shutout twice. The once-reliable scoring well has dried up. St. Louis was shutout 4-0 on Friday night against Winnipeg in an embarrassing effort. Sunday’s wasn’t much different.

Nashville, meanwhile, continues to cruise and regained sole possession of top spot in the Central Division, two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand.

The win also put the Predators a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for tops in the Western Conference and two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning at the summit in the NHL.

Along with Sissons’ goal, Kevin Fiala notched his 20th to five the Preds a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Everything went right for the Preds, even when they were shorthanded.

Watson’s shorty made it 4-0 after Scott Hartnell gave Nashville a 3-0 lead 1:20 into the second period.

That nice orange-red circle in front of Jake Allen is pretty telling.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, was solid in the crease for the Predators, picking up his sixth shutout of the season and 49th of career in a 27-save performance.

The Predators, who have now won four straight, get their stiffest challenge yet against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. On the line is first place in the division, a spot both teams will likely duke out for heading down the home stretch.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Tuukka Time isn’t running out

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Remember when people thought Tuukka Time was running out? Rask stopped 28-of-29 against the Flames in a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins on Monday. Rask, according to Sportsnet Stats, is now 20-2-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 25 games, 24 of which has been starts.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Rinne stopped 36-of-38 to help the Predators back into a tie first place in the Central Division. Rinne, who has won three of his past four starts, picked up his 30th win of the season, the seventh time he’s done so in his career, and fourth season in a row.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker notched two tallies in the game, his second and third goals in his past two games, to help the Wild to a much-needed win after dropping their previous two contests.

John Gibson and Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson left after the second period with a lower-body injury. He made 13 saves. Miller came in for a relief stint and stopped 20 third-period shots for the rare combined shutout, just the second occurrence in team history.

Highlights of the Night:

Poor Erik Karlsson:

Brad Marchand uses his head for some good:

The Chronicles of Rittich:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Wild 5, Islanders 3

Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Bruins 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Predators 5, Senators 2

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 2, Golden Knights 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck