Predators down to Plan C trying to figure out Jets

Kyle Connor scored two goals and added an assist as the Winnipeg Jets dominated the Nashville Predators in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.

NASHVILLE — This is the dragon that the Winnipeg Jets are dealing with now, with a series-clincher set for Monday night back home in Frantic-toba.

“We’re going to go there, we’re going to win a game, we’re going to come back here. It’s that simple,” spelled out Nashville’s P.K. Subban. “We’re going to wake up in the morning and the last page is going to be turned. We’re going to go to Winnipeg, we’re going to win a game, then we’re going to come back here.”

But P.K. C’mon, man.

The Jets just walked into your building and kicked your rear ends 6-2.

Your team has been chasing this series since the day it opened, burning through Plan A, which was to run and gun with the Jets, to Plan B, which was to trap the life out of the game and win that way.

You really want us to believe you have a Plan C? (Hint: Subban really wants you to believe the Predators have a Plan C.)

“We’re a character group. We’ve got a ton of experience in here. We’ve had our backs against the wall before,” said Subban, who stood waiting for the media when the doors to the Nashville room opened to the press post-game. “Like I said, we’re going to go to Winnipeg, we’re going to win a game, we’re going to come back here. Every single guy in here believes that.”

So that’s a perfect place to start talking about the Jets, isn’t it? “Every single guy…”

We’ve wondered when 31-goal man Kyle Connor would arrive in these playoffs, when 29-goal man Nikolaj Ehlers would chip in, and when 44-goal sniper Patrik Laine would start burying some of the myriad of scoring chances he has forged in this series.

In the spirit of the great Bob Cole, “everything was happening” in Game 5, with Laine ripping the crucial game-opening goal in off of Paul Stastny, who was standing just outside Pekka Rinne’s crease. Right away, Nashville’s trap game goes into the gutter when they’re chasing the score.

After a first period that the Jets simply survived, emerging at 0-0 in what was a major victory in the game within the game, Laine’s shot caroms in off Stastny’s glove. Then, just 82 seconds after Yannick Weber tied the game, Connor scores. Then Dustin Byfuglien blows one past Rinne 2:05 later. Then Connor again, just 2:26 after that.

Nashville was down 4-2 after 40 minutes, and here’s the problem:

Now they HAVE to press. Now they HAVE to take chances. And we’ve been down that road in this series, right?

Winnipeg wins that game every time.

“I loved our first period,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “There are going to be moments when (the goalie) is going to have to stand tall. That’s what a good team has. There are going to be times when he doesn’t have to do much of anything and there are going to be times when he has to play great. Tonight, he had a bit of both.”

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We knew it would work this way for those Jets, who entered the post-season with, collectively, nearly zero playoff experience. If they could hang around long enough to accrue some playoff hours, maybe, just maybe, they’d have what it takes when the moment arrived.

It arrived after a first period that was pure survival for the Jets. When they sat down after 20 minutes and looked at each other across the visitors’ dressing room here at Bridgestone Arena.

What did they say to each other?

“Keep our composure. We’re doing fine. The score is 0-0,” said Mathieu Perreault, the calming, veteran presence who returned to a Jets lineup that is, in fact, getting stronger as these playoffs roll on. “Obviously they had more chances, but we felt the second would be a new period. We started to get our legs a bit more and you saw the difference for sure.”

They weren’t quite that team when these playoffs began. How could they be, on a club that hasn’t won squat since it came into the NHL as the Atlanta Thrashers back in ’99?

Today, this Winnipeg Jets team is flying home with a chance to eliminate the Presidents’ Trophy-winning, defending Western Conference champs. It’ll be a hell of a job, because for all the talk Subban delivered on Saturday, there are 19 other guys in that room with a quiet resolve that you can only have when you’ve been as good as Nashville has for as long as Nashville has been.

Their window isn’t supposed to shut quite yet, but that school of thought never really took these Jets into consideration, did it?

Saturday night started with Lady Antebellum messing up the Star Spangled Banner, and before trainers were done cleaning up the dressing rooms, the arena crew already had half the ice covered in plywood for a Sunday night show.

Me: “Who’s comin’ in here tomorrow?”

Arena guy: “Five Finger Death Punch.”

Been there, done that.


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