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NASHVILLE – Just call it the Music City meltdown.
The Winnipeg Jets came completely unglued Thursday night, handing the Nashville Predators eight consecutive power plays before the game was even two periods old, and nine in total, in what turned out to be an eventual 3-0 loss.
Ryan Hartman, Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen scored for the home team – the first two on blatant Winnipeg turnovers – during what seemed like three of the very brief stretches of five-on-five action in the game at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville improves to 3-1-0, while Winnipeg drops to 2-2-0.
There was plenty of hype coming into the contest as a pair of hockey heavyweights squared off for the first time since their memorable playoff series last spring, which the Jets won in seven games.
And the end result may have actually exceeded expectations while stoking the fire for future meetings.
It had a bit of everything: Huge hits, great saves, periods of non-stop, end-to-end high-event action (a stretch of 6:48 without a whistle at one point), after-the-whistle skirmishes, unlikely fighting combatants and controversy. Lots and lots of controversy.
The main talking point will clearly be the unusual disparity in penalties, which had coach Paul Maurice and several of his players losing their cool. Tyler Myers, for example, earned himself a 10-minute misconduct late in the second period when he mockingly clapped at one of the referees for the latest call against his club.
There was also a near-line brawl in which captain Blake Wheeler dropped the gloves with Mattias Ekholm – after trying to fight Filip Forsberg earlier in the period – and Nikolaj Ehlers of all people went toe-to-toe with Colton Sissons.
Nashville went 0-for-9 on the night, which is either a glowing tribute to Winnipeg’s penalty killing or a pretty damning indictment of their power-play setup. That included a couple prolonged stints of 5-on-3 action.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, didn’t get their first power-play until the start of the third period, which they frittered away. They had a few more chances on a second chance later in the frame, but Pekka Rinne stood tall. No doubt that felt pretty good for the No. 1 Nashville netminder, who had a nightmarish playoff series against the Jets in May.
It’s hard to win at any level of hockey, against any team, when you are on the wrong end of that kind of statistic.
But make no mistake, Winnipeg’s penalties were well-earned. They included: Ben Chiarot with a meaty slash, Patrik Laine clipping and cutting P.K. Subban with a high stick, Wheeler going after Forsberg for no apparent reason, Ehlers shoving Ryan Ellis into Winnipeg’s goal, Jacob Trouba with a vicious cross-check, Byfuglien running a Predator right into his crossbar, another slashing infraction from Trouba, and a blatant interference call on, you guessed it, Trouba.
Winnipeg’s best chances came before they were in a full-on parade to the penalty box.
Byfuglien had a breakaway early in the game but was stopped by Rinne, while Adam Lowry was denied on a shorthanded solo dash in the middle frame. Wheeler also had a late shorthanded breakaway but couldn’t cash in.
Nashville’s first goal of the game was one defenceman Ben Chiarot will want back. With his back turned to the play in Nashville’s end, Chiarot tried a cross-seam pass to Byfuglien which Hartman read perfectly. The speedy Nashville forward picked it off, then beat a gassed Byfuglien in a foot race before going in all alone on Hellebuyck and beating him just 3:02 into the second period.
Josi made it 2-0 near the midway mark of the final frame. Byfuglien gave the puck away in Nashville’s end, and the Predators quickly turned it around and converted off the rush, with the big blue-liner scoring on a slapper from the slot.
Johansen then iced it later in the period with a silky-smooth backhanded deke of Hellebuyck, a few seconds after Byfuglien had wiped out trying to catch an airborne puck.
Winnipeg and Nashville will meet three more times this season, but not again until Jan. 17 back at Bridgestone. The other two games, both at Bell MTS Place, are set for March.
The Jets flew home after the contest. They’ll begin a six-game homestand — their longest of the season — Sunday night when the Carolina Hurricanes come to town.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.