Nashville had almost everything in its favor Friday night. Home ice in front of a rowdy crowd and a sizable edge in shots on goal, but the Predators still let Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals slip away to the visiting Winnipeg Jets, 4-1.
The Preds came out firing and held a 20-4 advantage in shots on net through 20 minutes. But they took a 1-0 deficit into the locker room after Brandon Tanev scored his second goal of the playoffs. Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets’ third-year netminder, stood on his head in the first frame—and he wouldn’t stop there. Nashville threw 16 more shots at Hellebuyck in the second, and he once again stopped them all.
Though the Jets only accumulated 16 shots in the first two periods, they tacked on two more goals in the middle frame. Like Tanev, Paul Stastny scored his second of the playoffs to give the Jets a 2-0 lead. Mark Scheifele netted his fifth late in the period to give Hellebuyck some breathing room entering the second intermission. He needed it.
The Predators continued to pepper Hellebuyck in the third, and they finally broke through early in the period on a beautiful display of passing. Kevin Fiala polished off the play with a slam dunk to bring the home team within two. That’s as close as it would get. Nashville’s momentum was thwarted a minute later when Ryan Ellis took a skate blade to the face in the attacking zone. An eerie echo came over the arena as Ellis grimaced on all fours and later headed straight to the locker room. He returned later in the period.
When Ellis got back into the game, the rink was still heavily tilted in Nashville’s favor. But the Preds simply couldn’t get anything by Hellebuyck. They pulled Juuse Saros, who replaced Pekka Rinne in the third, with around three minutes remaining and still couldn’t find twine. Scheifele raced down the ice to prevent an icing call against the Jets and rewarded himself with his second goal of the game, officially sealing a huge win at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville finished with 48 shots on goal, more than doubling Winnipeg’s 19. Hellebuyck took over and did so in emphatic fashion, resulting in a stolen victory for the Jets and a 1-0 series lead. The two teams face off again in Nashville on Sunday. If Nashville brings similar energy, they should have better fortunes—unless Hellebuyck has anything to say about it, again.
WPG leads series 1-0 | Box Score | Full Recap
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
The Preds finally got on the board in a big way. Ryan Ellis, Kyle Turris, Kevin Fiala: Tic, Tac, Toe. A thing of beauty.
1. Connor Hellebuyck, WPG
— If a player could take all three stars of the game, Hellebuyck would deserve it. His 47 saves were the difference in this tilt.
2. Mark Scheifele, WPG — His empty-net goal dissipated any hope Nashville had at a miracle comeback. Scheifele's goal at the end of the second to give the Jets an insurmountable 3-0 lead was gigantic, too.
3. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG — Byfuglien led the Jets in ice time with 25:36 minutes played. He also paced his team with six hits, all while keeping a positive plus/minus.
The Lightning and Bruins racked up the highest and second-highest number of points in the Eastern Conference, respectively, during the regular season. Boston enters the series off an emotionally charged Game 7 victory over the Maple Leafs. The Bruins won three of the first four games in the series before Toronto stormed back to force the seventh game, which the Bruins won 7-4. The Lightning haven’t played in a week after booting the New Jersey Devils in five games. Tampa looked strong in round one, as has been the norm this season. As well as the Bruins played until end the year, they’ll need all of that juice and more to skate with the Lightning.
The Golden Knights scored as many goals in Game 1 of this series (seven) as they scored in their entire first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings. Marc-Andre Fleury posted his third shutout of the playoffs in Vegas’ 7-0 win in Game 1. In the other net, Martin Jones looked great in the first round before allowing five goals on 13 shots against Vegas. The Golden Knights’ offense should come down to earth, and Jones probably won’t be as bad in Game 2 either, but the Sharks will be without Evander Kane, who was suspended for Game 2 after cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the head late in Game 1. Vegas still hasn’t lost in the postseason for a reason—they can play, and it’s an uphill battle for the Sharks because of it.