Blake Wheeler overtime hero as Jets edge Predators
Dustin Byfuglien left the game in the 3rd with an undisclosed injury
Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets just stayed positive.
Wheeler's wrister 51 seconds into overtime helped the Jets avoid a huge comeback bid by the Nashville Predators with a 5-4 victory Thursday and the veteran forward attributed it to Winnipeg staying upbeat even as its lead dwindled.
The Predators (19-17-8) stormed back with three third period goals from Ryan Johansen, Eric Nystrom, and James Neal, whose equalizer with 13.5 seconds remaining sent Nashville and Winnipeg (20-21-3) to a 3-on-3 overtime bout.
Winnipeg's 4-1 third period lead was built on goals from Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers, and a pair from Dustin Byfuglien. Nashville rookie Kevin Fiala opened scoring less than a minute into the game.
"More than anything, we just had a great feeling in our room, great feeling on our bench," said Wheeler, whose goal and assist Thursday ups his team-leading point total to 43. "Even [at] 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, I think we still had a good feeling. So that was a good sign for us."
Byfuglien's 10th and 11th of the season are the first goals for the Jets' lone All-Star selection since Dec. 18. Rookie goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stopped 31 shots in his ninth start in Winnipeg's last 10 games.
"I liked [the game] until the tide turned there in the third period. I really liked our game," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "The compete was good. We got down behind one, but didn't feel after the first period that they got better than we did."
Three minutes after Winnipeg built their three-goal lead, Nashville responded with two goals less than three minutes apart midway through the third as Johansen's eighth and Nystrom's sixth of the season quickly cut the lead to one.
"Obviously, being down 4-1 to come back like that on the road on a four-game losing streak is impressive," said Nashville's Johansen. "We could have easily thrown in the towel and not have to battle and show the resilience that we did.
Nashville, losers of five in a row, finish their four-game road trip with only one point, allowing Winnipeg within three points of their quickly loosening hold on the final wild card spot in the Western Conference at 46 points.
"This is playoff-type hockey right now with how tight our division is," said Neal. "It's a race right to the end, so we have to take confidence out of that point and go back home and get going again. That's where we're at right now. It was a good third period for our club."
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinnestruggles on the road continued. Entering Thursday night, Rinne was 1-8-2 with a 3.29 goals-against average in his last 11 road starts.
The Predators opened the scoring just 59 seconds in. An eventual video review placed roughly 10 seconds back on the score clock when it was determined Fiala's initial shot crossed the line before quickly bouncing out off the internal crossbar. It was the first-career NHL goal for the 19-year-old Fiala, playing in his first game of the season and third of his NHL career since being selected 11th overall in 2014.
Byfuglien left the game in the third period with an undisclosed injury. Paul Maurice says the defenceman's status will be re-evaluated tomorrow and he will travel with the team as the Jets go to Minnesota for a quick one-game road trip Friday night before returning home for a six-game home stand that includes a rematch with Nashville on Jan. 21.