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Rinne, Johansen lift Predators past Jets

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets, who in the season’s first half won 12 of their 19 games at MTS Centre, have officially hit a rough patch on home turf.

Craig Smith scored the winning goal early in the second period, while James Neal salted it away with a fortuitous goal late in the third as the Nashville Predators defeated the Jets 4-1.

Off a lost draw, Neal ripped a quick shot off the post, off goalie Connor Hellebuyck and in to curb the Jets’ bid for a comeback.

“I’m really mad because you hate to see that last goal go in like that, especially when we’re trying to push,” Hellebuyck said. “Just a terrible bounce. You hate to end a game like that.”

Calle Jarnkrok scored into the empty net with 1:27 to play.

With the loss, the Jets fall to 0-3 on this home stand and 21-23-3 overall, six points back of a playoff spot.

“We can play a little smarter and we can pass the puck better, we know that — but, clearly, we’re in a tough spot with the losses that are mounting here at home,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “I think they played hard, but they can play better. We can do more. If you throw your hands up because you’ve got a couple guys injured … that’s not getting you far.

“We had 10 guys with a grand total of four shots on goal. It’s the National Hockey League. They’re good players. They can get pucks to the net. … As a group we didn’t get enough to the net.”

Nikolaj Ehlers got things rolling for the Jets on a breakaway four minutes and 16 seconds into the game. In behind the defence after receiving a feed from Joel Armia, Ehlers made a nice move in tight, chipping a shot over the glove hand of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

Of the 27 shots he faced, it was the only one to beat him.

Ehlers, along with linemates Armia and Mathieu Perreault, proved to be a thorn in the side of the Preds all night, drawing two penalties (both in the first period) and being a consistent threat offensively throughout the game. Ehlers now has points (3G, 2A) in five of his last seven games, giving him 18 total on the year.

“It definitely hurts,” he said. “We had some good chances and weren’t able to execute, but there’s a lot we can take from this game and look forward to the next one.”

Ryan Johansen brought the Predators back on level ground with a power-play goal at 16:39. The former Jacket took a pass back door and made no mistake short side, jamming it past the elongated right pad of Hellebuyck.

The Predators took a 2-1 lead early in the second period as Craig Smith fired a shot through a screen, top cheese over Hellebuyck’s right shoulder.

“I don’t want to go over the goals right now,” Hellebuyck said, visibly frustrated. “I want to watch them over film before I comment on them.

“It’s pretty frustrating. I think every team runs into a little adversity, though. Bouncing back from this is going to make us a better team.”

The Jets outshot the Predators 11-5 in middle frame (11-2 at even strength) but they couldn’t sink another past Rinne.

“It definitely hurts in the sense that we thought we were the better team for a lot of that game,” defenceman Tyler Myers said. “You look at the opportunities we had in the second, especially – a lot of Grade A scoring chances. We just weren’t able to bear down on them. It hurts to lose, but that one hurts, for sure.”

LATE HITS: Alexander Burmistrov (undisclosed) was a game-time decision but did not play. Patrice Cormier drew in as a result, centering a line with JC Lipon and Anthony Peluso. … Adam Lowry (upper body) and Drew Stafford (upper body) missed their third straight game. Mark Scheifele (lower body) missed his fourth straight.

– Ryan Dittrick,

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