The Predators outshot the Jets by a 48-19 margin in the opening contest of their Round Two series, but it was Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck who made 47 saves to lead his team to a 4-1 win over Nashville on Friday night. It’s just the second time in their last six postseason series the Preds have dropped the opening game, a rare postseason loss on home ice.
Nashville led in just about every category on the night, except where it mattered most. All but two Preds skaters registered a shot on goal in what many called their best game of the postseason. But as Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said following the game, it’s about more than just effort at this time of the year.
“We have to win hockey games,” Laviolette said. “You can hang your hat on that sometimes in the regular season when you’re talking about a process and a long haul and a big picture. But right now, if you give me two choices on where to be, our game or their win, I’d take the win. It’s about winning hockey games right now. We’ll look at it and try to get better.”
“It’s too bad [the effort] doesn’t matter, though; you have to win a hockey game,” Preds center Ryan Johansen said. “They’re up 1-0, that’s all that matters. For us, there are some good things we can look at for sure, and some things we can improve on.”
The Predators set a postseason franchise record with 20 shots in the opening frame, but it was Winnipeg who took a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a goal from Brandon Tanev. Paul Stastny made it 2-0 in the second period, and after Filip Forsberg hit the post on a Nashville power play, the Jets came right back and Mark Scheifele potted his fifth of the playoffs for a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes.
Pekka Rinne was pulled in favor of Juuse Saros to begin the third period, and Kevin Fiala gave the Preds life when he finished off a nifty passing play and beat Hellebuyck at 1:23 of the final frame. However, that was all Nashville got on the night with Scheifele icing it with an empty-netter late in regulation.
“The goals, the were really tough for Peks,” Laviolette said of his decision to pull Rinne. “We need to do a better job, especially on those first two that you’re talking about. It was just to change it up, to go in a different direction, to send the game in a different direction.”
For the Predators, the focus simply shifts to Game 2 now, a contest that always carries a noticeable swing – either go down by two, or turn it into a best of five. You can decipher which result the Preds would prefer.
“For us, right now, there’s a few things we need to clean up,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. “A couple mistakes cost us, but bounces are going to happen in a hockey game. That’s just the way it is. Like I said, we’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
“We have a smart group and they know how to handle situations, especially this one,” Johansen said. “So for us, we’ll take tomorrow and I’m looking forward to hanging out with my dogs on the nice day – maybe take them to the park – and then get back to work.”
Austin Watson left Game 1 after the first period and did not return, with Head Coach Peter Laviolette saying he expects to have an update on Watson’s condition on Saturday.
The Predators finished with 48 shots on goal, just six shy of tying their postseason franchise record for a single game.
Scott Hartnell and Ryan Hartman were among the Nashville scratches in Game 1.
Game 2 between the Preds and Jets comes Sunday evening at Bridgestone Arena at 6 p.m. CT. The series then shifts to Winnipeg for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday of next week.