Goaltender Pekka Rinne made 32 saves and P.K. Subban slapped home the game-winner in the second period as Nashville built a 2-0 lead while keeping the Winnipeg Jets’ red-hot offense discombobulated. The victory evens Nashville’s series with the Winnipeg at 2-2 and creates a best-of-three with two of the remaining games at Bridgestone Arena.
After allowing 13 goals (not counting two empty-netters) in the first three games, Nashville’s identity – one that’s built from the net out with excellent defense – was fading. The messaging going into Game 4 was simple: tight gap control between defenders and Jets’ shooters, physicality and simple clears out of the D zone.
And that was exactly what the Predators did.
“It was something we really focused on, playing solid defensively,” Rinne said. “That was an amazing team effort. We played a really solid game throughout the 60 minutes and it’s obviously a big win for us.”
Focused on the defensive zone first, the Predators chose their moments to counter attack in the first period until Ryan Hartman put a loose puck top shelf at 17:20 of the first. The goal was a second-straight opening act by Nashville’s fourth line, a unit Head Coach Peter Laviolette described as “rock solid.”
“Even tonight, the way they defended, the way they hit, the way they competed on pucks, the way they chipped in on goals, they’ve got a couple goals in the series, they’re doing a terrific job,” Laviolette said of the line. “You have to give them a little bit of credit. I thought they were excellent.”
In the second, Winnipeg’s frustration continued to grow as the Jets’ stars experienced stifling neutral zone play from Nashville and the Predators breathing down their necks every time they entered the offensive zone.
When a minor penalty on Dustin Byfuglien gave the Preds their first power-play opportunity of the evening, Subban made sure the chance was converted. The blueliner’s one-timer provided Nashville a 2-0 lead late in the middle frame and gave Subban goals in three consecutive playoff games for the first time in his career.
“He had a monster game tonight,” Laviolette said of Subban. “He was a beast out there.”
Patrik Laine ended Rinne’s shutout bid with a power-play goal that came less with than a minute to play in regulation, but that was as close as Winnipeg came all night. Now, the Preds head home to Nashville with a chance to take their first lead of the series with home-ice advantage back in their favor.
“We’re heading home playing in front of our fans in a big game,” Subban said. “We know [the Jets are] going to be better as the series goes on. In this position, this is exactly what the teams expected it to be – a long series. Now we got home ice back.”
After a 7-4 loss in Game 3, Peter Laviolette said he looked at his fellow coaches and told them: “I’m putting Scott Hartnell in the lineup.”
The question coming back quickly was who would sit to make room for the 36-year-old veteran? Laviolette didn’t want to touch his first, third or fourth lines, all of whom he thought were playing particularly well, so the magnifying glass stopped on the second trio.
Laviolette decided to replace Kevin Fiala with Hartnell’s edge and experience for Game 4. That was the spark he felt his team needed to shift the narrative of the series with a chance to tie the Round Two battle.
“With Scott coming into the lineup, in this building against the opponent we were playing, I saw somebody that had a little bit of experience, has more size, more weight, more physicality, still be able to score a goal if you give him the opportunity and maybe a different look to that line as well,” Laviolette said of his decision. “We made the switch, and I thought Hartsy did a pretty good job tonight. He had a few shots on goal, he had four hits, so that’s what we were looking to do.”
Coworkers on a Philadelphia Flyers club that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, Laviolette knows exactly what Hartnell can bring on the ice even in the twilight of his NHL career. As do Hartnell’s current teammates.
“Ultimate team guy,” Rinne said of Hartnell. “Great in the locker room, and his presence, his experience I think calms everybody down. He’s a warrior out there, and that’s just the way he played tonight. He was one of the key guys for us tonight on the forecheck and making smart plays and being physical.”
Whether or not Hartnell will remain in for Game 5 remains to be seen, but Laviolette knows what he’s getting if he chooses to call the veteran’s number once more. He also knows what kind of series this is turning out to be, and it’s just what he expected.
“It’s a best-of-three now and our guys will be ready to play, and so will Winnipeg,” Laviolette said. “You just have keep turning the page. [Game 3] was crazy and so you have to turn the page on that at some point and start focusing on the next one. I thought our guys did a good job at that tonight.”
Hartnell and defenseman Yannick Weber entered the Predators lineup for Game 4, replacing Fiala and Alexei Emelin, respectively. Calle Jarnkrok remained out after missing Game 3 as well with what Laviolette called “maintenance.”
Of Subban’s three consecutives goals, all of them have been the Predators’ second goal of the game and with Nashville on the power play.
Game 5 between the Predators and Jets is set for Saturday night (at 8:30 p.m. CT) at Bridgestone Arena before the series heads back to Winnipeg one final time for Game 6 (8:30 p.m.) on Monday. If necessary, a deciding Game 7 (time TBD) would come in Nashville next Thursday.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report