Blake Wheeler scored with less than a minute remaining and the Winnipeg Jets came back to defeat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Saturday night at MTS Centre. The result gives the Preds 94 points to conclude the 2016-17 regular season and the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, meaning they'll face the Chicago Blackhawks in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators had a 1-0 lead and were pleased with their play for a majority of the night, but the Jets scored twice in the final 10 minutes to seal Nashville's playoff opponent.
"Tonight, we liked our play for a lot of the game, but not in the end," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "We had to rely on [goaltender Pekka Rinne] too much. He had some big saves and deserved better, but we have a lot of hockey that hopefully we can play coming up."
Both teams traded chances in a scoreless first period, and the Predators were unable to convert
on a 5-on-3 power play in the middle frame, but a shorthanded chance led to Nashville's first goal of the night. Ellis capitalized on a Winnipeg turnover in the neutral zone and skated in all alone, beating Connor Hellebuyck for his 16th goal of the season and Nashville's 12th shorthanded marker to lead the League.
The Jets kept coming in the third, and it was Kyle Connor who broke free and solved Rinne, tying the game at 1-1 with less than 10 minute remaining in regulation, and then Winnipeg deposited a shorthanded tally of their own when Wheeler scored with 45 seconds left to seal it.
Video: NSH@WPG: Ellis steals puck, slides home pretty SHG
"I'm not happy with the last 10 minutes," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "The first 50 minutes, I was really happy. We were skating well, we were in control of the game and I thought we played a really strong game."
The Nashville locker room, although disappointed with the conclusion of their regular season, was willing to look ahead to a series against a Chicago team that has defeated them twice before in team history. But a new test awaits, one the Preds can't wait to take.
"It's a great challenge for us," Rinne said of facing the Blackhawks. "They're a world-class team, and we look forward to playing against them."
"They're a skilled team," Ellis said. "it's gonna be a fast-paced, highly-skilled series. They have guys who can make plays, shoot the puck and so do we. We're gonna have to be at our best for that one."
Video: NSH Recap: Ellis scores in tough road loss to Jets
Preds defenseman P.K. Subban skated in his 500th NHL game on Saturday in Winnipeg.
The Predators were without Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok and Roman Josi on Saturday, all out with lower-body injuries. Vernon Fiddler and Yannick Weber were also out, dealing with upper-body injuries.
Nashville's next game will come in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A full schedule is expected to be announced on Sunday.