In a thoroughly entertaining battle between the two goalies representing the Central Division at next month’s NHL All-Star Game in Florida, it was Juuse Saros getting the better of Connor Hellebuyck as the Predators got past the Jets 2-1 in Nashville on Tuesday night.
The Jets were shutout for the final 59 minutes as they closed out the five-game road trip on a sour note to end their short two-game win streak.
Pierre-Luc Dubois opened the scoring for Winnipeg just 48 seconds into the game, but the Predators stole the momentum in the middle frame, and took the lead for good just over five minutes into the third period.
The Jets hit a pair of crossbars in the final minute, but still came up just short.
“Three posts in the last minute and a half,” said Dubois. “That’s a big difference maker.
“There’s a lot of things that can change the course of a game, and I’d say three posts, or two posts in the last minute and a half is pretty big game changer.”
The Predators outshot the Jets 41-33 overall, and the ice was heavily tilted in the second period where the shots were 18-5 for Nashville.
“We also passed up a lot of chances to shoot,” said head coach Rick Bowness. “We had some odd man rushes in that second period that we didn’t take advantage of, so the opportunities to put more pucks on net were there.
“We had some 2-on-1’s, some 3-on-2’s that we just were trying to make plays that weren’t there.”
“We had our chances, they had theirs,” said Jets forward Cole Perfetti. “Hit a couple crossbars late. We created lots, had lots of good chances. I think a couple self inflicted wounds and things we’d like to clean up we know we can do better.”
For the Jets, it was their fifth game in the span of just eight days, and they just ran out of gas.
“A long road trip,” said Dubois. “We were on the road for a week, come back home for one game, back on the road for eight days. 16 games in 28 days.
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“That’s a lot of hockey, but we still have to have that same attitude, and that same mindset going into games.”
Defenceman Logan Stanley was activated from injured reserve and returned to the lineup after missing 40 of their last 42 games.
He had a fight, two hits, and two shots on goal in 12:49 of ice time.
Dylan Samberg was scratched to make room in the lineup, while Ville Heinola was reassigned to the Manitoba Moose earlier on Tuesday.
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Dreams of a goaltender duel seemed to take a hit early in the first period when Dubois scored just 48 seconds in, finishing off a great cross-ice pass from Perfetti.
But the keepers settled in as the first went along. Both sides had several great chances as the teams at one point played almost nine consecutive minutes of hockey without a whistle.
Winnipeg held onto their 1-0 lead through the first, having outshot the Preds 15-13 in the opening 20 minutes, but the home side flipped the tables in the second.
Nashville dominated the middle frame, outshooting Winnipeg 18-5 and Hellebuyck did all he could to keep the sheet clean.
The shutout bid ended at the 13:49 mark of the second when a Roman Josi point shot deflected off Winnipegger Cody Glass and through Hellebuyck to level the score.
The Predators held a 31-20 shot edge through 40 minutes but the score remained knotted at one.
Winnipeg came out of the gates stronger in the third, but Nashville found the go-ahead goal less than six minutes in.
After the Jets failed to clear the puck, Tommy Novak skated into the slot and fired a shot wide of the net, but Tanner Jeannot picked up the puck behind the net and beat Hellebuyck on a wraparound to put the Preds in front for the first time.
It was Jeannot’s first goal since Oct. 27.
Both teams had several opportunities to score, but both Hellebuyck and Saros brought their A-game as the minutes ticked off the clock.
Winnipeg pulled the goalie with two minutes left to try and push for the equalizer. Nashville had a great chance to end it with an empty-netter but Josh Morrissey blocked a Mikael Granlund shot from the faceoff dot to keep his team alive.
But the Jets were unable to get one past Saros. Both Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers hit the crossbar in the waning minutes but Nashville escaped with a 2-1 victory.
Hellebuyck was outstanding in the game, turning aside 39 shots in the loss while Saros stopped 32 shots to even the season series at a game apiece.
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The Jets concluded their longest road trip of the season with two wins in five games as they return home to host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 5 p.m. with game action starting just after 7 p.m.
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