The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG–The Winnipeg Jets looked to have everything going for them heading into last night’s game.
An opponent seemingly on the ropes, a city bubbling with anticipation, a raucous home crowd, and a confident group ready to take its first step into a conference final.
The trouble is, someone forgot to tell the Nashville Predators.
Filip Forsberg scored two incredible goals, and Pekka Rinne made 34 saves for his second shutout of the playoffs, as the Predators blanked the Jets 4-0 to avoid elimination and tie their second-round series 3-3.
“It’s been back and forth, up and down,” Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice said.
“It’s probably right that it’s going seven.”
That decisive Game 7 goes Thursday night in Nashville, with the winner taking on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights for a shot at making the Stanley Cup final.
With the usual thunderous backing at Bell MTS Place, and thousands more fans gathered for a street party outside the arena, the Jets fell behind early on a strange goal before failing to connect on three-successive power plays in the first period to take the wind out of their sails.
“The power play is probably just a microcosm of the way we played,” said Winnipeg centre Paul Stastny.
“We probably weren’t moving as well or as sharp as we wanted.”
Forsberg also had an assist for a three-point night, Viktor Arvidsson had two goals of his own and set up another, while Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen chipped in with two assists each.
“Desperation,” said Rinne, who picked up his fifth-career playoff shutout.
“It just shows that we have a really tight group.”
After the Jets’ top line combined for eight points in a 6-2 victory in Game 5 in Nashville to take a 3-2 lead in the series, the Predators No. 1 trio of Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Johansen did the same when it mattered most.
“It’s the most fun,” Forsberg said. “You can never have more fun than playing these elimination games.
“Just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 25 shots for the Jets, who will look to rebound in a punch/counter-punch affair that has seen the visiting team win four times and neither club grab consecutive victories.
“There is a simplicity to the games that have been won,” Maurice said. “Most of our best offence never got to the net.”
Forsberg put Nashville ahead by 2-0 at 8:44 of the second period on a great solo rush for his sixth goal of the post-season.
After breaking his stick in the defensive zone blocking a shot, the Swedish winger raced to the bench to collect a new piece of lumber as the puck almost simultaneously arrived at his feet.
Forsberg stayed onside, fought off Jets’ defenceman Ben Chairot, and beat Hellebuyck short-side before crashing into the net.
Rinne was there later in the period to stop Adam Lowry with his pad before just getting a piece of Mark Scheifele’s shot on an abbreviated 2-on-1 to keep Nashville up by two.
Forsberg then took a pass from behind the net, played the puck between his own legs, and beat Hellebuyck for his second of the night and seventh of the playoffs at 5:55 of the third to leave little doubt the series would be heading back to Nashville.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Fil’s a big-game player,” Predators’ head coach Peter Laviolette said.
“[The second] goal was just good work by their line but he had to finish it off.
“Let’s be honest, none of us in this room can make that play,” Laviolette added. “You’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”
Arvidsson added an empty-netter with 4:02 left, leading to a scuffle after Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine fired the puck in his direction as the Nashville winger celebrated.
While disappointed with the result, the Jets will travel to “Music City” knowing they’ve already won twice there in the series.
“We’ve taken two out of three so far,” said defenceman Tyler Myers. “And it’s a fun atmosphere just like it is here.
“I’d feel a lot better beating them in their own rink, too.”
Nashville took the lead just 62 seconds into the game to quiet the usual rowdy, white-clad crowd on Arvidsson’s fourth when he ducked in self-defence, deflecting a blast from Josi past Hellebuyck in the process.
The goal initially was waved off for a high stick, but the call was reversed after video review.
Following one toothless power play, the Jets got a couple of chances on their next man advantage, but Rinne was there to deny Stastny twice on the doorstep before also stopping a Laine one-timer.
The home side then got its third power play of the period, but it looked a lot like its first as the Predators went to their locker room up 1-0.
“There is lots of stuff that we didn’t like,” Maurice said.
“The idea that you’re going to put your game out there and it’s going to work every single night because you won the last won . . . you’d have a whole bunch of teams going 16-0,” he reasoned.
Elsewhere, Washington edged Pittsburgh 2-1 in overtime to win their Eastern Conference semi-final 4-2.