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Instant Analysis: West's Best Meet in Round Two

Teams Who Combined for 41 Goals in Season Series, Meet With Conference Final Spot on the Line

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

The top two finishers in the Western Conference will square off as the Nashville Predators meet the Winnipeg Jets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

The Round Two series will open later this week in Nashville - with the schedule announced soon - but already has full analysis of the series, a look back at the five-game 2017-18 season series, X-factors and four things that will define the playoff matchup.

Season Series Refresh:

Nashville's regular-season record versus Winnipeg: 3-1-1

Scoring Leaders:

Goals: Nashville: Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris (3); Winnipeg: Nikolaj Ehlers (3)

Assists: Nashville: Ryan Johansen (8); Winnipeg: Three players tied with (4)

Points: Nashville: Ryan Johansen (9); Winnipeg: Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler (6)

Video: Balanced attack leads Predators past Jets, 5-3

November 20, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 5, Jets 3

The Predators' offense was red-hot when they faced the Jets for the first of five times during the regular season.

Nashville raced out to a 5-1 lead, marking the fifth consecutive game they scored four or more goals. At 19:02 of the second period, Mattias Ekholm tallied for the fourth-straight game, setting a franchise record for goals in consecutive games by a defenseman.

"I thought we played well," Ekholm said. "[Winnipeg] looked tired [in the second period] and we just kept coming at them - they took some penalties and we got some goals. We got that separation and that was the difference in the end. I feel like we're really strong at home."

Kevin Fiala and Kyle Turris each scored in the game as well; both players tied for the team lead in goals with three during the season series with the Jets.

Video: NSH Recap: Late goal costs Predators in loss to Jets

December 19, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena: Jets 6, Predators 4

The Predators fell in regulation for the first time in the month of December when Brandon Tanev scored the game-winner for the Jets with 1:26 left in regulation.

The definition of a back-and-forth affair saw the Predators take a 2-1 lead with two goals in the final minute of the first, only to see the Jets hold a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes.

Yannick Weber tied the game, 4-4, with his first goal of the season just 30 seconds into the third. But just as overtime seemed to be on tap in Nashville, Tanev slipped a shot through Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne's five-hole to give the Jets the victory.

"I thought we just played OK tonight, especially the first two periods," Predators Captain Roman Josi said. "Against a good team like that, it's just not enough."

"They're a skilled team and a fast team," Weber said. "We knew it was going to be a tough match, but I think we gave them a little bit too much."

Fiala, who scored again against the Jets, extended his point streak to eight games. Filip Forsberg notched an assist to give himself at least a point in each of the Preds' 16 home games at the time.

Video: Preds score three unanswered goals to beat Jets, 6-5

February 27, 2018, at Bell MTS Place: Predators 6, Jets 5

The Predators scored three unanswered goals in the third period to erase their second two-goal deficit of the game and claim a 6-5 win in Winnipeg.

Playing in his first game with the Preds, Ryan Hartman directed in the game-winner with exactly a minute left off a pass from captain Roman Josi, who matched a franchise record with five assists in the contest.

The Predators' win also gave general manager David Poile his 1,319th career victory as an NHL GM, tying Glen Sather for the all-time record for wins by an NHL general manager. Nashville would go on to come back and win in each of their next three games on the four-game road trip.

"It was crazy," Josi said. "It was a lot of fun, back and forth and definitely a high-speed game. A lot of goals, lot of fun looking back - I guess not as fun for the coaches - but it was a pretty crazy game."

Video: Rinne continues hot stretch as Preds beat Jets, 3-1

March 13, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 3, Jets 1

The Predators caught the Jets on the second half of a back-to-back set of games and took advantage, scoring three goals in the opening 8:49 of the contest.

Michael Hutchinson started in net for Winnipeg before being pulled after Viktor Arvidsson's goal just before the nine-minute mark. Arvidsson's 26th of the season came 34 seconds after Austin Watson's 12th, giving the home team two shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill.

The 3-1 win gave the Predators 100 points on the season and put them on top of the NHL standings.

"These two points - we marked it as a game that had to go our way," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "As we sit here and push toward it late in the season, we're trying to battle for what we need to do in order to better ourselves for the playoffs, and obviously, the division and the conference. Those are things we talk about. So, the two points were very important."

Video: NSH Recap: Predators fall to Jets in SO, 5-4

March 25, 2018, at Bell MTS Place: Jets 5, Predators 4 (SO)

The Predators rebounded from a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild the night before by claiming a point in Winnipeg.

Nashville built leads of 3-1 and 4-3, but saw Blake Wheeler's 20th of the season force overtime just a minute into the third period.

After a spirited overtime session, in which both teams hit the post, Mark Scheifele scored in the shootout to give the Jets the second point. Preds goaltender Juuse Saros made 43 saves in the loss, his only action of the regular-season series.

"[Tonight's effort was] much better," Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "The last two games, I think we just weren't ourselves. We didn't look like anything we've been this whole year and tonight, on a back-to-back versus arguably one of the best teams in the League, to put that effort out and get a point out of it - it's not [the result] we wanted - but it was much better by everyone involved. Much better effort."

Series Analysis: Four Things

No Place Like Home: The Winnipeg Jets finished with the NHL's best home record at 32-7-2. The Predators took three of four points from their two games at Bell MTS Place and finished tied for third in the NHL with 28 home wins (28-9-4).

Even before the Predators opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs with two wins at Bridgestone Arena, Head Coach Peter Laviolette commented several times that his team had earned home-ice advantage so they could "just win all their home games" in the playoffs.

Yes, the coach admitted that's an overly simplistic way to view the twists and turns of the postseason, but in a playoff series that appears to be very evenly matched, the Predators holding home-ice advantage could be the difference.

"I can't stress the importance of that enough just having home ice," Laviolette said. "That doesn't mean we're going to win every home game… But if it gets down to the wire and it comes down to a Game 7, it's back at Bridgestone Arena, which is what we always wanted."

"When you think about it, if you take care of all the home games, you win the Stanley Cup," Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "We all love to play here in our arena and love to play in front of our fans and feel very confident playing in that building. I hope that it works to our advantage."

The Predators have won 11 of 14 home playoff games dating back to the 2017 postseason, the most in the NHL during that span (tied with Pittsburgh). Nashville beat Winnipeg two out of three times at home during the regular season. They may need to be perfect at Bridgestone Arena in Round Two.

League's Best Top Nine: When the Jets added center Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, NHL analysts clamored to proclaim Winnipeg's top-nine forward group the best in the entire League.

The Jets had four 60-point scorers during the regular season, including 91 points for captain Blake Wheeler and 70 for Patrik Laine. Despite playing in only 60 games, Mark Scheifele reached 60 points as well.

With Nashville and Winnipeg combining for 41 goals during the regular season, it seems that even with the Predators' collection of top defensemen the Jets' offense is potent enough to dictate a high-scoring series between the two clubs. If one of the teams puts five goals on the board, can the other keep up?

Consider the Preds' 6-5 win in Winnipeg on Feb. 27, even with the game meaning so much in the Central Division standings and national media calling it a playoff preview, the teams still went up and down on the ice combining for 71 shots and seven goals in the second period alone.

Balanced Attack: In contrast to the Jets' star power, featuring 20-year-old Patrik Laine's 44 goals, Nashville's offensive attack includes eight 40-point scorers, two of which were defensemen (Roman Josi and P.K. Subban).

In their first round series with the Colorado Avalanche, nine of the 12 Predators forwards who played in five or more games registered a point. In fact, two of the top five scorers were in the Predators top-six forward group, while the other three were in the bottom six.

Especially at home, where Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette can control the personnel matchups more, Nashville will need all of their forwards to exploit favorable pairings against the opposition.

"That's been a key throughout the whole regular season, too. I feel like the scoring on our team is so spread out and our top six [defense] or even top eight D can play against anyone's top line," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "I think anyone on our team can play against [the opposition's top players]."

True to Ekholm's words, two Preds, not traditionally known as goal-scorers, stepped up in their Round One series with the Avalanche. Colton Sissons (3g-4a) and Austin Watson (4g-3a) helped lead the team on offense against Colorado. Watson scored in three-consecutive games in the postseason, while Sissons has put together an equally impressive stretch. The 24-year-old center has 13 points (7g-6a) in his last 14 playoff games, including a hat trick in Game 6 of the 2017 Western Conference Final versus Anaheim.

Vezina Finalists in Goal: Two of the three 2018 Vezina Trophy finalists will face off in the Predators and Jets' Round Two matchup.

Pekka Rinne was nominated as the League's top goaltender for the fourth time after tying for the NHL-lead in shutouts (8), and finishing first in save percentage (.927), even-strength save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (2.31) (out of goaltenders playing in 50 or more games).

Connor Hellebuyck was nominated for the first time after setting the record for wins in a season by an American-born goaltender (44) to go with a .924 save percentage and 2.36 GAA. In his third full season in the NHL, Hellebuyck has given the Jets the starting netminder they've desired since relocating to Winnipeg. In a single season, the 24-year-old goaltender posted more victories than he did in his previous two season combined (39).

And yet, the regular-season series between the two teams was defined by anything but defense. In fact, in the three games both Rinne and Hellebuyck faced off in the final scores read 6-5, 6-4 and 5-3.

This Round Two series may come down to simply which 2018 All-Star goalie can make a few saves he isn't expected to stop. As an added note, Rinne has a 15-4-1 career record against the Jets.

X-Factors: Discipline (Nashville) and Experience (Winnipeg)

A game between the Predators and Jets two seasons ago famously featured close to a dozen players in the penalty boxes at one time and 10 minors handed out after a single whistle.

The animosity hasn't dissipated. After-the-whistle scrums, big hits and face washes have become something of a staple in games between the two division rivals.

This season, the Preds were called for nine penalties (18 PIMS) in a March 13 meeting and seven more (14 PIMS) in a game on March 25. For a team that finished as the most penalized team in the NHL - and struggled with ill-timed minors in the first round - keeping their cool will be paramount in a Round Two matchup with the Jets.

"Yeah, we have to stay out of the box," Preds forward Austin Watson said after a Game 4 win in Round One. "I don't know how much more we want to talk about it - I mean, I'll say it again, we've got to be more disciplined."

If any additional motivation is needed for the Preds to stay out of the box, consider this: The Jets finished the 2017-18 regular season with the fifth-ranked power play in the League (23.4 percent).

The Jets made history by beating the Wild in Round One to give their franchise its first-ever playoff series victory. Further to the point, the franchise hadn't even won a playoff game - split between its time in Atlanta and Winnipeg - until the Jets won Game 1 against the Wild.

All that to say, the Jets' playoff experience is quite limited compared to a Predators team that was in the Stanley Cup Final less than a year ago.

Consider this quote from Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm:

"The first couple years, you almost got too low when you lost and you almost got too high when you won," Ekholm said. "You can't have that. You have to stay even keeled with everything you do. One night, you're going to feel not so well and the next night you're going to feel great, so it's just trying to keep more nights on the great side."

Ekholm explained that mentality after the Preds were beaten in Game 3 by the Avalanche. Nashville responded 24 hours later by producing one of their best performances of the playoffs to win Game 4.

If the Jets are faced with a similar situation, can they respond in the same way?


The Predators and Jets have never met in the playoffs before. Matt Hendricks played 44 games for Nashville during the 2013-14 season before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Devan Dubnyk.

Nashville defeated Colorado in six games in Round One. Winnipeg also took out a fellow Central Division team in the Minnesota Wild but in five games.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two schedule is expected to be released in the coming days. Games 1, 2, 5* and 7* (if necessary) will be played at Bridgestone Arena.

For the latest playoff info, go to see details on watch parties, plaza parties, giveaways, postseason news, highlights and a #StandWithUs social media toolkit.

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