Jets clinch playoff spot with shootout win over Nashville
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Captain Blake Wheeler wasn’t certain at the beginning of the season if his Winnipeg Jets would contend for a playoff spot. Now he has his answer.
Mark Scheifele scored the only goal in a shootout and the Winnipeg Jets clinched a playoff spot with a 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.
The Jets are in the postseason for the first time since 2014-15 and just the second time since their move from Atlanta before the 2011-12 season. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007.
“A lot of uncertainty coming into the year, where we were going to be,” said Wheeler, who has been with Winnipeg since the relocation. “I don’t think many people thought we were going to be where we are at, a playoff team. Every single guy in here has had a huge part in that. It’s a big moment for our team and for our organization.”
Jets rookie Kyle Connor scored a power-play goal and had two assists, giving him seven goals in six games. That includes a pair of overtime goals in Winnipeg’s previous two games and gives him 29 on the season. That’s tied with Vancouver’s Brock Boeser for the rookie goal scoring lead. Boeser’s season ended March 5 with a fracture in his lower back.
“He’s one of the single biggest reasons why we are where we are,” Wheeler said. ”(Connor has) put up nearly 30 goals and is a real impact player playing with Mark Scheifele and I. It’s quite a surprise.”
Dustin Byfuglien also scored on the power play, and Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler each added a goal and an assist for Winnipeg.
Kyle Turris, Ryan Ellis, and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Roman Josi also scored for the Predators.
Nashville backup Juuse Saros stopped 43 shots while the defending Western Conference champions rested their Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne after playing the night before in Minnesota.
Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves for the Jets, improving to 39-11-0.
The clubs have combined for 41 goals in five meetings this season.
“There’s a lot of people shooting the puck out there. They got a lot of talent on their team,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our guys do a pretty good job scoring goals. I can’t explain it. Both teams have good goaltending. Both teams played pretty good defense, but offense seems to rule the day.”
The Predators went 1 for 5 on the power play. Turris’s 14th put the Predators up 2-0 with less than one second remaining in the first period. The Jets’ two goals with the man advantage put their power play at 2 for 5.
“I think playoffs are a lot different, to be honest with you,” said Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm when asked about potentially meeting the Jets in the postseason.
“It’s most likely going to be the same players, so I wouldn’t expect anything much different. But playoffs are playoffs. I know on our part, we’re going to tighten up defensively, for sure.”
NOTES: The Jets trail the Predators by five points for first in the Central Division with seven games remaining in the regular season.
Predators: Start a three-game homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night.
Jets: Complete a six-game homestand against Boston on Tuesday night.
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