Jets put it in high gear, roar past Preda­tors

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS -

The young Win­nipeg Jets have grown up fast this post­sea­son, so quickly that now they are headed to the first Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal in their short his­tory af­ter knock­ing off the NHL’s best team in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Tyler My­ers and Paul Stastny scored 2:06 apart in the first pe­riod, and the Jets stunned the Nashville Preda­tors 5-1 on Thurs­day night in their first Game 7 con­tin­u­ing an amaz­ing run for a team swept in its pre­vi­ous two play­off ap­pear­ances.

“The telling stat for me in this se­ries is we played four games in here and never lost in reg­u­la­tion against the best team in the league,” Jets coach Paul Mau­rice said. “That’s what you worry about with a young team. It’s a phys­i­cal se­ries. We’ve got some skaters. ... But that’s a dif­fi­cult thing to do, to get out on the road ... to play well in here as con­sis­tently as we did, it’s im­pres­sive.”

Stastny fin­ished with a sec­ond goal and an as­sist, and Mark Scheifele also had two goals. Blake Wheeler and rookie Kyle Con­nor each had two as­sists.

Con­nor Hel lebuyck made 36 saves for Win­nipeg, which won three of four games in Nashville af­ter miss­ing the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy by three points to the Preda­tors.

The Jets now host Ve­gas in Game 1 on Satur­day night in a con­fer­ence fi­nal no­body could’ve pre­dicted when this sea­son started.

“I like it,” Helle­buyck said. “I’m ex­cited, and look­ing for­ward to it.”

P. K. Sub­ban scored for Nashville, now the ninth Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy win­ner in 10 years not to win the Stan­ley Cup.

The best sea­son in Preda­tors his­tory ended ear­lier than a year ago, but in the same fash­ion on their own ice. They lost to Pitts­burgh in Game 6 of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal last June.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville’s Vez­ina Tro­phy fi­nal­ist along with Helle­buyck, was chased for the third time in this se­ries af­ter giv­ing up two goals on seven shots. He lasted just 10 min­utes, 7 se­conds for the quick­est exit by a start­ing goalie in a Game 7.

“It’s heart­break­ing,” Helle­buyck said on see­ing Rinne pulled.

Rinne tried to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Preda­tors’ sea­son end­ing far ear­lier than they ex­pected.

“The big­gest mo­ment of the sea­son, it’s a ter­ri­ble feel­ing,” Rinne said. “You let your team­mates down, and that’s what hap­pened tonight. That’s tough to swal­low.”

These teams com­bined for 231 points in the reg­u­lar sea­son, mak­ing this se­ries the two best teams on points ever to meet in a se­ries be­fore a con­fer- ence fi­nal. This was the third Game 7 all- time for Nashville with a big edge in ex­pe­ri­ence over the Jets play­ing on this stage.

Nashville also brought out the star power once again with Sh­eryl Crow singing the U. S. an­them and for­mer NFL Ti­tans run­ning back Eddie Ge­orge wav­ing a towel to rev up the crowd. A cou­ple cat­fish hit the ice be­fore the puck dropped.

The Preda­tors took five of the first six shots, then the Jets stunned the crowd. My­ers squeezed a wris­ter be­tween the post and Rinne’s left skate for a 1- 0 lead at 8:40 of the first. Then Stastny put a back­han­der off Rinne and into the net 2:06 later for a 2- 0 lead on just seven shots.

Nashvi l le coach Peter Lavi­o­lette didn’t hes­i­tate and pulled Rinne for Ju­use Saros, try­ing to snap the Preda­tors out of a slow start while sav­ing his time­out. Lavi­o­lette called the goals “f luky.”

Stastny sealed the vic­tory with his sixth goal this post­sea­son on the Jets’ lone power play at 11: 59. Scheifele added an empty-net goal with 2:33 left.

MARK HUMPHREY – THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Win­nipeg’s Paul Stastny, left scores a goal be­tween Nashville de­fense­man Ro­man Josi (59) and goalie Pekka Rinne dur­ing the first pe­riod of Thurs­day’s game.

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