The Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets Western Conference semifinal series lived up to its billing of going seven games. However, the ending came as a surprise. The Jets winning in seven games, but the way it came about was.
Winnipeg was able take advantage of suspect goaltending by Pekka Rinne to advance to its first Western Conference final since the Jets were reborn. The Jets will take on fellow feel-good story the Vegas Golden Knights for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
Nashville becomes just another team that won the President’s Trophy that could not win the title. There are already questions about if Rinne is the goalie that can get the Predators over the top.
Let’s look at the three storylines that set the tone for the series.
Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets Storylines
The Buyck Stops Here
Many thought the goalie advantage was in Nashville’s favour but Connor Hellebuyck proved that he’s one of the top goalies in the league. Hellebuyck is 3-0 with a 2.00 goals against average and .940 save percentage after losses. He’s not lost consecutive starts since March 10th and 12th.
The Commerce Township, Mich. native is now 7-4 this postseason and capped off the series with a 36-save performance. Not bad for a person that wasn’t drafted in the USHL and NAHL drafts.
The goaltending questions now shift to the Predators as Rinne was inconsistent in the series. Rinne carried a sub 2.00 GAA in Nashville wins and one above five in their four losses. P.K. Subban immediately defended the Finnish netminder by calling him the backbone of the team.
However, the Predators now face a decision on when will Rinne’s expiration date in Music City will be. Juuse Saros is growing into a solid NHL goalie and is in line for a raise as he’s a restricted free agent in the off-season.
The Defence Doesn’t Rest
Nashville does have one of the best defences in the league, but Winnipeg’s blueliners showed its a force to reckoned with. Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba are already known as top defenders. However, Tyler Myers has returned to full health and allowed the Jets to spread out minutes. Dmitry Kulikov’s signing wasn’t celebrated, but he’s been key to the defence.
Winnipeg was able to use physical play to slow down a fast-paced Nashville squad. Many were concerned that the Jets could be beaten on rushed, but the Predators got limited opportunities.
Nashville also didn’t get scoring from Roman Josi or Ryan Ellis. Both players were key in the run to the Stanley Cup final last season. The Predators needed a few more goals from the blueline.
Both teams have great depth and that was on display in this series. Coaches Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette were making moves like chess players. Scott Hartnell’s inclusion in the lineup gave the Predators a nasty edge.
Nashville tried many moves like bringing in Mike Fisher and benching Kevin Fiala. However, Winnipeg flexed their depth with Kyle Connor and the acquisition of Paul Stastny. The Jets bottom six was key to their victory.
The Predators will have to figure out if Fisher and the other older players will come back but will have Eeli Tolvanen in for his rookie season. General manager David Poile’s mission is to find a way past the Central Division foe in order to maximize its Cup-winning window.
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