Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

Carter BrooksSports

WINNIPEG, MB – It was a good old ‘last-goal-wins’ kind of night from Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg Tuesday night. The hometown Jets played host to the visiting Nashville Predators in a highly-entertaining potential preview of what very well may be this spring’s Western Conference Finals. It was a matchup featuring two powerhouse teams with upgraded lineups following Monday’s trade deadline.

The Predators acquired forward Ryan Hartman on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a mix of draft picks and prospects. The Preds also officially announced the signing of former team captain Mike Fisher to a one-year, $1 million deal on Monday. However, the 37-year-old’s services were not available on Tuesday.

Winnipeg caused quite a splash on deadline day, swooping in and snatching 32-year-old veteran forward Paul Stastny from Central Division rival, St. Louis Blues. The son of former NHL great Peter Stastny has 216 goals and 633 points in 805 games over the span of 12 NHL seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues.

Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

Also acquired on Monday was defenceman Joe Morrow. The 25-year-old spent the past four seasons bouncing between Boston and Montreal of the Atlantic Division. The left-hand shooting defenceman is expected to serve outside the Jets’ top four defencemen as a depth option, and work his way into Winnipeg’s starting six when called upon. Morrow drew into the lineup on Tuesday – following Toby Enstrom’s lower body injury – and made his debut alongside Stastny.

Stastny received a hearty cheer from the 16,345 fans in attendance at Bell MTS Place during the singing of the national anthems as his face lit up the screen. He spent the majority of his shifts on Tuesday centering a line consisting of the speedy Nikolaj Ehlers and the ever-dangerous Patrik Laine. To make things even easier for Stastny, number 25 won his first two faceoffs on his opening shift as a Winnipeg Jet – much to the pleasure of the hometown fans.

The game touted as an offensive showdown also proved to be a battle of will within the blue paint. Coming into Tuesday’s contest, both Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ranked within the NHL’s top eight in goals against average and save percentage, while tied with each other for second place in wins (32) and shutouts (6). Those stats may have sunk significantly following the high-scoring affair.

Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

It was a bit of a tentative start across the board in the early going. However, both Central Division competitors began to find their groove late in the opening frame.

Following a Viktor Arvidsson tripping penalty drawn by Morrow, the Jets’ new-look power play – featuring Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien, Laine and Stastny – looked exceptionally potent. With tremendous puck movement, Winnipeg came close to jumping ahead to the early lead on multiple occasions. Laine rang a blistering shot off the far post, before Stastny tucked a rebound past Rinne, but wide of the cage.

Shots after one period of play were 13-11 for the visitors.

The second period of play saw a slew of seven total goals, with both offences jumping into the spotlight. Matt Hendricks got things started for Winnipeg just three minutes into the middle frame, with a perfectly placed wrist shot that found its way through Rinne. Preds’ d-man Roman Josi then picked up a loose puck and skated it around the Nashville net, before finding a wide open Craig Smith, who scored his 19th goal of the season on a great setup play, tying the game for the second time.

Cue the Mark Scheifele show.

Clearly appearing highly aggravated following a brief tussle/near fight with P.K. Subban, Scheifele certainly had a bone to pick with the veteran defenceman – he just chose the goal-scoring outlet as a way to show it. First, the 24-year-old tapped in his 20th, on a great setup by rookie Jack Roslovic. Less than two minutes later he put up his 21st on a phenomenal passing play with the man advantage. The primary assist came from Paul Stastny – his first point as a Jet.

Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

Less than a minute after Scheifele’s second goal of the contest, Kyle Turris found the twine for Nashville. Winnipeg Head Coach Paul Maurice challenged Kelly Sutherland’s ruling on the play, but following an in-depth offside review, no conclusive evidence of an improper zone entrance made itself present, thus prompting Sutherland to uphold the call, handing the Jets a two-minute bench minor in the process. Fittingly, Mattias Ekholm scored his ninth goal of the season with one second remaining on the ensuing Nashville power play.

With just over two minutes to go in the second, Ehlers picked up a chip pass in the neutral zone and walked into the Nashville zone untouched, before ripping his 25th marker past a bewildered Rinne, restoring the Jets’ lead once again. Shots were 24-23 for the home team following the second period of play.

With exactly 10 minutes to go in the third period, Ehlers won a puck battle in the offensive zone and walked to the centre of the ice before dishing the puck back to the corner for Stastny. The newcomer made no mistake one-timing it into the Nashville net, giving Winnipeg a two-goal lead.

Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

But in following the game’s script to a T, the Predators responded less than a minute later. Jumping on a loose puck, Craig Smith turned and fired his second of the game, and 20th of the season past Hellebuyck high glove-side, bringing Nashville to within one goal of the Jets once again, sparking a monumental comeback for the Predators.

With just 6:03 left in the contest, Ryan Johansen found a way to squeak a rolling puck past Hellebuyck, tying the game up once again. In what certainly appeared to be a ‘last-goal-wins’ kind of night.

Roman Josi then picked up his fifth assist of the night setting up the newest member of the Pradators, Ryan Hartman, on the game-winning goal with a slick fake-shot pass to the bottom of the crease with exactly one minute left. Hartman calmly redirected the pass for his first ever goal as a Predator.

Winnipeg and Nashville in a Tuesday Night Barn Burner

Despite a valiant effort with their net empty, Winnipeg could not respond to Nashville’s late-period goal. The Predators held the lead in Tuesday’s game for exactly one minute of play – the final minute.

Paul Stastny finished his first game as a Jet with a goal, an assist and a plus two ranking in 14:23 of ice time. He went 14 of 19 for a 74 percent success rate in the faceoff circle. Winnipeg completed the month of February by picking up 15 of a possible 24 points with a 7-4-1 record.

The Jets will look to turn things around Friday night in an inter-conference matchup with the visiting Detroit Red Wings. Revenge will be the mindset Friday against the Red Wings squad that handed the Boys in Blue a 5-1 loss on the road back in December. Action gets underway from Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place at 7:00 P.M. on Friday, and can be seen live on TSN3.

Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post

Photos by James Carey Lauder