WINNIPEG — Down 3-0 after a disastrous opening 20 minutes, there was no flipping of tables or peeling of paint off the walls in the Winnipeg Jets‘ locker room.
They instead spent the first intermission calmly trying to figure a way out of that deep hole.
"We got kicked in the teeth a little bit," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "Our goal was just to win the second period and give ourselves a chance."
They did that, and a whole lot more.
Wheeler scored on the power play with 4:59 left in regulation after Winnipeg roared back from that early deficit to defeat the Nashville Predators 7-4 on Tuesday and grab a 2-1 lead in their second-round playoff series.
"It’s definitely not how you draw up a first period, but nobody panicked," said Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba, who finished with a goal and an assist. "We just regrouped. It wasn’t really any different in here than if it was a tie game or if we were winning.
"We just went out there and played a little bit faster and played with a little bit more confidence."
Dustin Byfuglien had two goals and an assist for Winnipeg, while Paul Stastny added a goal and two assists.
Wheeler, who also had an assist, scored the first of two empty-net goals in the final minute, with Brandon Tanev getting the other.
Mark Scheifele added two assists to become the first player since Sidney Crosby in 2010 to record five consecutive multi-point games in a post-season. Connor Hellebuyck made 26 stops.
Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban each had a goal and an assist for Nashville, while Mike Fisher and Auston Watson also scored. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Johansen both chipped in with two assists for the Predators, who got 38 saves from Pekka Rinne.
"We just stopped playing," Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis said. "You can’t win hockey when you stop playing."
Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal goes Thursday in Winnipeg before things shift back to Nashville for Game 5 on Saturday.
After the Predators surged ahead on goals by Fisher, Subban and Watson in the first period, the Jets roared out of the gate in the second to tie it during a frantic three-minute stretch.
Stastny got the comeback started at 2:38 when Trouba’s bouncing shot from the point struck his skate in front and ricocheted in off the middle bar and straight out. The veteran centre raised his arms in celebration, but play continued for a few seconds before officials blew the sequence dead to check if the puck crossed the line.
Wheeler then missed a wide-open net after a Rinne turnover before getting cleaned out by Watson along the boards.
Scheifele came to Wheeler’s defence to nullify what would have been a Winnipeg power play, but the Jets seemed to get a boost from the exchange and made it 3-2 when Byfuglien blasted his second of the playoffs past Rinne at 5:11.
Then with the teams still playing 4-on-4, Trouba took a slick pass from Wheeler just 18 seconds later to send the white-clad crowd Bell MTS Place into its third frenzy in quick succession with his second of the post-season.
"That was chaos," Stastny said.
Winnipeg imposed its physical will as the period wore on, hitting Nashville’s defence at every opportunity, and the pressure finally paid off with 45 seconds remaining when Patrik Laine fed Byfuglien for his second of the night.
The big defenceman celebrated by removing a glove and dancing — a far cry from the playful punches he threw at teammates after Winnipeg tied Game 2 late in regulation.
"You guys only see him on the ice," Trouba said. "I see him dance all the time."
But Nashville punched back to level the score 4-4 at 7:40 of the third when Forsberg wheeled across the top of the slot on the power play to beat Hellebuyck upstairs with his fifth goal of the post-season shortly after Laine hit the post at the other end.
Trouba then turned the puck over at the offensive blue line to send Viktor Arvidsson in alone on a breakaway, but Hellebuyck was there with a big glove stop.
Winnipeg got its third man advantage of the third with 5:59 remaining when Subban went off for high-sticking after failing to clear the puck twice late in a previous Jets power play. Wheeler went on to score the winner from a tight angle after Rinne stopped Scheifele from the slot as Bell MTS Place exploded once again.
"Our fans are huge. It’s real, too," Wheeler said. "Our crowd noise is from the crowd. It’s not from speakers or music or live bands or whatever.
"That’s people making noise and that goes right through your body."
Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor missed on a breakaway that would have sealed it on another man advantage before Nick Bonino hit the post at the other end for Nashville.
Wheeler and Tanev then sealed it into an empty net in the final minute.
The Jets opened the series with a 4-1 win in Nashville before the Predators picked up a 5-4 double overtime victory in Game 2.
The Predators silenced Winnipeg’s rabid fans just 4:53 in Tuesday when Fisher poked a loose puck over the goal line for his first of the playoffs after Hellebuyck couldn’t squeeze Ryan Hartman’s tip of an Ekholm shot from the sideboards.
Wheeler then took an offensive zone tripping penalty, and the Predators capitalized when Subban blasted his second of the playoffs, and second in as many games, through Hellebuyck’s five-hole at 10:06.
Watson made it 3-0 with 2:25 left when he took advantage of an awkward Winnipeg change and sniped a shot in off the post for his fifth.
Fisher almost added to the misery late in the period, but his backhand hit the post behind Hellebuyck.
"It’s not easy to come back after what we did in the first," Byfuglien said. "Everyone just knows you can’t quit — never quit.
"Just keep working, you never know what’s going to happen."