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NASHVILLE — They can’t undo the past. But you can be sure the Nashville Predators are determined not to let history repeat itself as a familiar foe comes to town.
The Winnipeg Jets waltzed into Music City last spring and won not once, not twice, but an impressive three times to take their memorable best-of-seven divisional playoff series. That was no easy feat, considering the Predators dropped only nine of 41 home games in regulation during the regular-season.
And as if Nashville wasn’t motivated enough, they’re coming off a lacklustre 3-0 loss at Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night to the Calgary Flames. Now 2-1-0 to start the new campaign, they sport an identical record as the visiting Jets for Thursday night’s Central Division showdown.
No one is suggesting the fourth game of the season will send a statement or represent a turning point for either club. But as far as early October matchups go, this is about as good as it gets.
Both teams, along with their respective fan bases, have no doubt had the date circled on their calendars since the NHL schedule was released in June.
“Right now, it’s hard to look forward,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said shortly after his team went through the handshake line with the Jets. “We have all the players to be successful, but obviously everybody’s really disappointed right now.”
That was exactly 22 weeks ago. A long, long time to stew.
What makes this a marquee event is the fact Nashville and Winnipeg finished No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the league last year and have returned with nearly the same lineups. Not surprisingly, both are considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
We figure it should take all of about 10 seconds for the competitive juices to get flowing and old grudges to flare up again. We’re looking at you, Mark Scheifele and P.K. Subban.
There’s also plenty of early indications the Central is going to be as competitive as ever, which makes these head-to-head contests even more important. Central teams are a combined 10-6-3 so far.
Winnipeg began the year with divisional games in St. Louis (5-1 win) and Dallas (5-1 loss) before beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in their home-opener Tuesday night.
Nashville also started on the road, winning a pair of tight games in New York over the Rangers (3-2) and Islanders (4-3) before falling in their home-opener to the Flames.
This is the first of four meetings between the clubs this season. They’ll play again in Nashville n Jan. 17 before the scene shifts to Bell MTS Place March 1 and March 23.
Not surprisingly, Nashville’s impressive defence is setting the early pace. Subban (1G, 2A) and Mattias Ekholm (1G, 2A) lead the team in scoring through three games. There’s also plenty of firepower up front with the likes of Viktor Arvidsson (2G, 0A), Filip Forsberg (1G, 1A), Craig Smith (1G,1A), Colton Sissons (1G, 1A), Kyle Turris (0G, 2A) and Ryan Johansen (0G, 1A).
Gone from last year’s playoffs are veterans Mike Fisher and Scott Hartnell, who both retired. And forward Austin Watson, a constant thorn in the side of the Jets, is suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading guilty in the summer to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge involving his girlfriend. He was given three months probation after admitting to shoving her during an argument at a gas station in June. He is appealing the ruling, and a decision is expected next week.
The only substantial new addition was defenceman Dan Hamhuis, signed as an unrestricted free agent to bolster an already loaded blue line.
Last, but not certainly not least, is goalie Pekka Rinne. Nobody is under a brighter spotlight, especially when it comes to facing Winnipeg, than last year’s Vezina Trophy winner. The veteran netminder absolutely imploded in the playoffs against the Jets, particularly in the seventh and deciding game when he was given an early pull after surrendering two quick goals in what turned into an eventual 5-1 loss.
He had a horrendous 4.93 goals against average and .848 save percentage in those four home playoff starts against the Jets.
“I feel very much responsible for our season ending at this point,” a devastated Rinne said at the time. “The biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling. You let your teammates down, and that’s what happened tonight. That’s tough to swallow.”
We’re guessing Rinne will be out for some personal redemption, assuming he gets the net Thursday. He won the season-opener in the Big Apple last week, then took the loss in Tuesday’s home-opener. Juuse Saros got the other start in Long Island and posted the win.
It’s far too early to say how the 2018-19 story will end for both teams. But the latest chapter should be a real page-turner.
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.