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Neal scores OT winner as Preds top Jets

Wheeler, Byfuglien, Laine & Armia score; Hellebuyck stops 37 as Jets pick up single point

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick / WinnipegJets.com

NASHVILLE, TN - Goals, goals, goals.

In a game that perfectly summed up the 2016-17 season for these ever-evolving Winnipeg Jets, a good chunk of them were theirs, but plenty were being reeled out of their own net, too.

James Neal scored the winning goal on a power play 2:11 into overtime as the Nashville Predators posted a 5-4 victory over the Jets at Bridgestone Arena.

"It was a good effort. We just give up so much defensively it makes it tough to win hockey games," Blake Wheeler, who was one of Winnipeg's four goal-scorers, offered post-game. "You've just got to find ways to limit some of the chances. They do a good job of transitioning the puck, and they've got some guys that can skate, but if you score four, you should win the hockey game."

Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler

The game featured plenty of offence, in part due to the multitude of shaky defensive breakdowns and odd-man rushes each way. The Jets built up a two-goal lead, lost it, then battled back with a pair of unanswered goals, only to lose it again when it mattered most, despite firing 34 shots on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

With the OT loss, the Jets' record falls to 30-33-7 on the year.

Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine and Joel Armia supplied the offence for Winnipeg, while Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves.

"It would be difficult to get really excited about it," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "We can score some goals, we know that, but we have a hard time keeping them out of our net."

The Jets carried a 4-3 lead into the third period, but Ryan Johansen tied the game with a one-timer off a great feed from Filip Forsberg at 4:23. Hellebuyck had no chance on the play, but nearly came up with the save anyway as slid across and got a piece of the shot, just not enough.

Video: WPG@NSH: Armia fight off defender, roofs wrister

"It pretty much embodies our season," Wheeler said. "We've gone up, we've gone down, it's been a rollercoaster ride all year. The good news is this is one of the tougher buildings to come in and get a win, and I thought our team came out with some resiliency, a lot of fight, and gave ourselves a chance to win."

The Jets opened up a two-goal lead early in the first period, but the Predators battled back to even the score late, before taking a 3-2 lead on a Forsberg tally only 19 seconds into the middle frame.

But this time it was Winnipeg's turn to respond after coughing up a 2-0 advantage earlier in the game.

Nikolaj Ehlers made a great pass over to Laine on a partial odd-man break, and the rookie made no mistake, firing a shot bar down from the top of the right circle to tie the game at three. Laine is now up to 33 goals on the year as he continues to lead the rookie-scoring race by five points over Toronto's Auston Matthews.

Video: WPG@NSH: Laine rings a wicked wrister in off the post

Laine had a chance to end the game with an incredible solo effort early in overtime, but Rinne closed the wickets in the nick of time.

Video: POSTGAME | Patrik Laine

"I think there were times when we played really well, especially in the second period. Then it was just a couple of easy goals for the opponent," Laine said.

"I think we played better than during the home stand and it's good to continue the road trip from here."

Armia put the Jets back on top with his eighth of the year at 8:39, as part of a 6-1 run on the shot clock The Finn showed incredible strength to fight off a defender and bring the puck to the front of the net before turning and firing it past Rinne.

The Jets appeared to extend the lead on a Mathieu Perreault goal just past the 10-minute mark, but after a challenge initiated by the Preds, it was determined the play was offside.

The Jets got the ball rolling with power-play goal at 3:39 after Marko Dano did a great job working the puck down low and drawing a offensive-zone roughing penalty. The Jets immediately went to work, and after controlling the puck and getting a series of shots off in the first half of the advantage, Wheeler took a pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the zone and wired home his 21st of the year to make it 1-0 Winnipeg.

Video: WPG@NSH: Wheeler pots seeing-eye slap shot for PPG

"They've got a good PK, too," Wheeler said of getting the early PPG. "They do a good job pressuring, but we did a good job scouting them and breaking them down a little bit. We just tried to get some shots to the net. We had some good opportunities and it was nice to get one to go in."

The Jets padded the lead at 12:09 as Byfuglien - who slid down from the right point - took a slick centering feed from Nikolaj Ehlers and hammered a shot short side on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

But the home side wasn't going anywhere.

Austin Watson got the Preds on the board just 23 seconds later as he took the puck up the right side, cut to the middle and rippled a shot over Hellebuyck's right shoulder to cut the deficit to one.

The Preds, who were all over the Jets in the back half of the period, scored the tying goal with only 10.6 seconds left on a play eerily similar to the Watson goal earlier on. Mike Fisher took a pass on the fly, cut to the net and hoisted a backhander up under the bar to even the score.

The Jets recorded eight of the first 12 shots of the period, but the Predators finished on a 12-2 run to take a 16-10 lead into the first intermission.

The Jets are back in action tomorrow night as this three-game road trip continues against the New Jersey Devils.

- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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