They played it like a playoff game, and the zebras ref’ed it like a playoff game. And when it was over all we could think about was what a playoff series the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators would give us.
An absolute track meet broke out at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg Tuesday night, and a thriller at that. Finally, Ryan Hartman’s first goal as a Predator came right at the tape, with 1:00 to play. It ended 6-5 for Nashville, but this was one of the highlight games from the 2017-18 regular season.
How about five goals in a 4:58 span in the second period? Or three more in a 3:57 span in the third? A goal scored on an offside challenge. A seven-goal second period!
You want entertainment? Whatever was paid to get into the rink last night in Winnipeg, it was worth it to see a slugfest between the two top teams in the Central Division.
They meet twice more — in the regular season — but this win was massive for Nashville, which came back from a 5-3 third-period deficit to pull four points ahead of the Jets in the Central. Here are some takeaways from a battle that we may have to get used to, between two Central Division clubs that don’t look to be going away any time soon:
Debut à la but
An astute Jets crowd let out a lusty cheer after the first faceoff win by Paul Stastny, acquired the day before from the St. Louis Blues. Stastny, who is just past the 800-game mark in an excellent, second-generation NHL career, rewarded the Jets faithful with a goal, an assist, and a 74 per cent night in the faceoff circle for his new club.
He’s going to work well in Winnipeg, where a deft centreman has a plethora of wingers with which to work. Stastny walked right on the to the top Jets power-play unit in his first game, assisting on that line’s only goal of the evening.
Across the ice, Hartman had a more quiet debut in his new togs, until he went to one knee to direct home the game-winner on a fiendish feed with exactly one minute to play. It was Hartman’s only point on four shots, but he looks mighty happy to be embarking on a playoff run with the Predators, rather than a long, uninterrupted summer in Chicago.
OK — we can’t go any further here without paying homage to one of the finest offensive efforts of the season by a defenceman. We bring you a five-assist evening, ladies and gentlemen, by one Roman Josi – the only blueliner to have five assists in a game this season.
The Preds D-corps leads the league in points and goals by defencemen. With Pekka Rinne in goal, a solid four-line attack up front, and quite possibly the best blue line in hockey, the Predators are as stout a team as there is in the NHL right now.
What a power play
The Jets power play ranks second in the NHL, and with the addition of Stastny it gets even more lethal.
Dustin Byfuglien on top, with his big blast. Patrik Laine in the “Ovechkin Spot” ready with the one-timer. Mark Scheifele in the bumper position. Blake Wheeler dealing off the right half-wall, and Stastny down low, picking his spot.
One power-play goal per game can win you a playoff series. The Jets have the ability to do that.
The Hendricks factor
“I think he might have had his head down there, Dennis. But it still went in.”
The colour guy watched the replay, and noticed that the Jets fourth-line stalwart may have been looking down at the puck as he rifled his fifth of the season past Rinne. But give Hendricks credit — he’s rejuvenated a career that many thought was over last year in Edmonton.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice has Hendricks on a line with Joel Armia and Andrew Copp, and they’re a handful. Again, just another element that good teams have: a fourth line that can check, mix it up a bit and score you the odd goal.
Put that in front of the kind of goaltending Connor Hellebuyck is giving the Jets this season (though not necessarily last night) and you have the recipe for a team that could make a run this spring.