The Nashville Predators got Mattias Ekholm back in the lineup tonight after struggling without him. The question on everyone’s mind was whether Ekholm’s presence would help them against the Winnipeg Jets.
The first penalty came less than two minutes into the game, immediately followed by the first fight, as Tanner Jeannot cross-checked Nate Schmidt headfirst toward the boards, then answered the call when Jets defender Logan Stanley objected to the hit. The penalties evened out at seven minutes each: five for fighting, with Jeannot picking up two for interference and Stanley two for roughing.
Play continued at 5-on-5 instead of going to 4-on-4, presumably because of the fighting majors accompanying the coincidental minors, and both teams got some good chances, with the Preds looking sharper already. The first goal of the game came moments later, as Eeli Tolvanen caught his own rebound and put it past Connor Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg challenged for a missed stoppage for play with a high stick, but the original call was upheld and the Jets went to the penalty kill for an incorrect challenge. The Jets’ penalty kill came out aggressive and determined, getting several chances shorthanded and keeping the Preds from threatening much at all with the skater advantage.
Luke Kunin then took a penalty for tripping. Just over eight minutes had elapsed in the first period. The Jets have been playing games with fewer penalties—both taken and drawn—than average this season, but apparently the Predators are the irresistible force to their immovable object. Juuse Saros stood firm, however, and the penalty elapsed without a change in score.
Mikael Granlund followed up a great chance with a goal later on the same shift, putting the Preds up by two with 8:11 remaining in the period. Josi’s assist on this goal moved him into sole possession of the franchise assists lead, as he passed David Legwand’s 356 mark. With 2:25 left in the period, Josi added another assist to his total as he set Ryan Johansen up for the Preds’ third goal of the period.
When they returned from intermission, the Jets opted to try to send seven skaters out on the first shift change, giving the Predators another power play. However, Nick Cousins canceled that power play out by taking a high-sticking penalty, sending the teams first to 4-on-4 and then to a Jets power play. Jeannot, crashing the net at the start of the penalty kill, attracted hostile attention from the rest of the Jets personnel. Eventually, the teams returned to five a side (and no more), without further change in score.
A minute or two later, Mark Borowiecki committed a stick infraction of his own, and less than a minute into that penalty kill Matt Benning was called for the third high-stick of the period. The Jets finally got on the scoreboard on that 5-on-3 when a Pierre-Luc Dubois pass instead deflected off Alexandre Carrier and past Saros. Borowiecki, out of the box, made some valiant and cinematic shot blocks, including the final clear of the penalty kill.
With the Preds’ lead diminished to 3-1, and Saros having faced 19 shots on goal already with over half the game remaining, Matt Tennyson—playing in his first game for the Preds with Fabbro still injured—tripped Jets forward Kristian Vesalainen, and the Jets went right back to the power play. The Preds were able to kill this one off as well, and when Tennyson returned to the ice he set Luke Kunin up for a goal that put the Preds back up 4-1.
Over seven minutes still remained in the second period.
Matt Duchene almost scored another, but was hauled down by Dubois before he could get the shot off properly. Hellebuyck made the save, but Dubois headed to the penalty box. The Preds’ power play got settled in the offensive zone this time, but the Jets’ penalty kill did good, responsible work blocking passing lanes before breaking in shorthanded. Saros made a couple of big saves on Andrew Copp, the Preds found the offensive zone again, and play returned to even strength without further score.
A few more chances at both ends, with the Jets getting the better of them but both goalies keeping the door shut, brought the period to a close.
25 seconds into the third period, Mark Scheifele pounced on a rebound and got it past Saros to make the score 4-2. The Jets continued to push. Ryan Johansen missed a check and bounced hard off the boards, then harder off the ice, and was very slow to get back to the bench; Saros had to make a huge stop with Johansen out of the action, and managed to hang on for the whistle.
The ice tilted hard for the rest of the third period, as the Jets came in waves, peppering Saros with shot after shot with almost no pushback from the Preds skaters. With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Carrier took exception to the amount of snow Kyle Connor had sprayed into Saros’s face. No penalties were assessed on the play, despite some displeasure from not just Carrier but the Preds’ bench.
Hellebuyck headed for the bench with around three minutes left and the Jets went on the attack with the extra skater. Josh Morrissey was whistled for a hand pass with 1:46 remaining as he grabbed the puck to keep it in, and the Jets used that break to call a timeout.
Hand pass aside, the referees seemed content to watch the game play itself out, until Benning forced their hand by objecting to an earlier hit on Ekholm. Still, after the whistles and the scrum, play resumed 6-on-5. Colton Sissons found Jeannot in the neutral zone with a pass, and Jeannot scored to put the Preds up 5-2 with 20.1 seconds remaining.
Hellebuyck returned to the net. It seemed as if Yakov Trenin had scored a buzzer-beating sixth goal, but it was ultimately decided that the buzzer had instead beaten Trenin.
OTF’s Three Stars of the Game:
3. Eeli Tolvanen — Scored a goal and managed to tread water in 5v5 xG share, a thing only five players on the team did. Most of the point-getters got caved in.
2. Roman Josi — Might be cheap giving a star to a guy just because he claimed sole possession of a team record, but...nah. (Also, those two assists were very nice.)
1. Juuse Saros — He was the only reason the Preds stayed in this game at all—and the two goals he allowed were on an absurd 38 shots.