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Jets open road trip with big win over Predators

Lemieux scores twice; Hellebuyck makes 37 saves

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Brendan Lemieux was excited all day on Thursday.

Given the history the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators have - whether it's the numerous Central Division tilts throughout the season or the memorable playoff series from last spring - Lemieux couldn't wait to help write the next chapter of the rivalry.

What a chapter he wrote.

Lemieux scored twice, while line mate Mason Appleton also found the back of the net in a 5-1 Jets win over the Predators.

Bryan Little and Brandon Tanev also had goals in the win, Winnipeg's fourth consecutive victory.

Video: WPG@NSH: Lemieux wraps it home just inside the post

"It kind of has that old-time hockey feel to it. There is some passion in the game. There is a long season and a lot of games, some games don't have that. This was one of those games you circle on your calendar," Lemieux said.

"It's always good when you can chip in offensively. I liked our overall game. I thought (Connor Hellebuyck) was great. We were good up and down the line-up."

Hellebuyck made 37 saves to pick up his 21st win of the season. More importantly, his performance moved the Jets to 31-14-2, four points clear of the Predators for the Central Division lead.

"I was excited to play tonight. I think it showed," said Hellebuyck. "I thought a lot of guys played very well tonight. All the way down the line-up you can see everyone was working hard and doing the right things."

Lemieux opened the scoring 10:09 into the first, when he tucked home a wrap around, squeezing the puck between the post and Pekka Rinne's left pad for his fourth of the season.

Video: WPG@NSH: Hellebuyck flashes the leather on Subban

The Jets looked to make it 2-0 when Blake Wheeler snapped one home from the right circle on the power play. But Nashville's challenge for offside proved successful, keeping the score at 1-0.

But the visitors would get that two-goal lead. It came early in the second, just minutes after Winnipeg killed off a Wheeler high-sticking penalty.

After some sustained offensive zone pressure, it would be defenceman Joe Morrow finding a seam to Mason Appleton, who was left unmarked in front of the Nashville net. Morrow's pass hit Appleton right on the tape for a tap-in. 

The Lemieux, Appleton, and Andrew Copp trio combined for four points.

"Their play has improved. The wingers have done a nice job but Andrew Copp going back to the middle has made a big difference," said head coach Paul Maurice. "I don't pull them off the ice when Ryan Johansen comes out and they end up scoring a goal. Good for them. They've earned that extra ice and that trust."

Video: WPG@NSH: Appleton shovels home Morrow's great pass

Nashville would get on the board with 8:03 left in the middle frame. Viktor Arvidsson - who was stopped on a breakaway earlier in the period - was in the right spot at the right time as a rebound off a Ryan Ellis shot popped out where the Predators forward was standing. He slid it home pulling his team within one.

Winnipeg responded before the end of the period, though. 

Patrik Laine's initial shot off the rush from the right wing was stopped by Rinne, but the rebound came out to the slot. Little swatted at it, knocking it through Rinne's legs to put the Jets up 3-1. The goal also extended Little's point streak to seven games.

"I just closed my eyes and swung. I wasn't aiming anywhere. I was just trying to make contact and got lucky I guess," Little said.

"It was definitely one of the better all-around efforts. There wasn't a whole lot that we did wrong out there. I thought we executed the game plan perfectly."

Video: WPG@NSH: Little cashes in on rebound in front

They carried that momentum into the third, building that two-goal lead to a 4-1 cushion when Tanev deflected a Sami Niku point shot past Rinne for his 11th of the season.

The defensive pair of Morrow and Niku combined for four points on the night.

"We were thinking with the forecheck we see from Nashville that this would be a challenge for Sami on lack of experience. They were both really good," said Maurice. "They moved the puck so well tonight. They got it out of trouble before it started. Got some good pucks to the net, made some good, simple offensive plays. I'm happy for them."

Lemieux's second of the night came with 4:32 to go, as his wrist shot went off a Predators defenceman's skate and beat Rinne on the stick side.

Next up on the schedule, the Jets take on the Dallas Stars on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.

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