Lemieux scores twice as Jets top Preds to strengthen Central lead
Winnipeg improves to 6-1-0 in its past 7 games
Connor Hellebuyck delivered the dominant performance he needed with backup Laurent Brossoit nipping at his net.
Hellebuyck made 37 saves and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 5-1 on Thursday night to stay alone atop the Central Division in a midseason showdown between rivals.
"I like this rink, too," Hellebuyck said. "Good memories here, too. Something about this place, it just suits my style I guess. I was excited. I was excited to play tonight, and I think it showed."
Hellebuyck improved to 21-13-1 with a big win after Brossoit moved to 10-1-1 with a win over Vegas on Tuesday night.
The Jets leave Nashville four points ahead of the Predators with two games in hand. Their final two meetings this season are at Winnipeg in March. The Jets edged Nashville in seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said Hellebuyck was really, really good.
"He had two or three glove saves that you have to make because this building, it's like ours," Maurice said. "If the home team scores a goal, you saw when they scored a goal it got going in here. He kept the building quiet with two, three really important saves."
Brendan Lemieux had two goals for the Jets, who won their fourth straight game. Mason Appleton, Bryan Little and Brandon Tanev also scored. Sami Niku and Joe Morrow each added two assists.
WATCH | Lemieux helps keeps Jets streak alive
"This was one of those games that you circle on your calendar and know it's going to be a fun one, so I was looking forward to it and it was awesome," Lemieux said. "Our line played great. It's good. It's always good when you can chip in offensively."
Viktor Arvidsson scored his fourth goal in two games for Nashville, which has lost three of four.
The Predators had won five of the last six against the Jets on home ice, not counting that playoff series in which Winnipeg took three of four in Nashville to reach the Western Conference final. Nashville shut out Winnipeg 3-0 on Oct. 11.
"It was a big game for us," Predators captain Roman Josi said. "They are right in front of us. They are obviously a great team in our division. It was a big game for us and definitely not happy with the result, but then we've got to learn from it."
Nashville started strong, swarming Hellebuyck in the opening minutes. Yet Winnipeg took a 1-0 lead when Lemieux finished off a wraparound by squeezing the puck between the post and Pekka Rinne's left skate midway through the first period for his fourth this season.
The Jets thought they had a 2-0 lead on a wrister by Blake Wheeler late in the period, but Nashville won its challenge that Winnipeg was offside.
Nashville started the second on a man advantage only to see Winnipeg quickly get the goal back. Rinne turned away a backhand from Niku on a breakaway, then 30 seconds later Appleton went to the net and redirected the puck into an open net for a 2-0 lead at 3:36.
Arvidsson, who had his second career hat trick in a 7-2 win over Washington on Tuesday night, nearly got Nashville on the board with a breakaway. But Hellebuyck made a save that caught the person in charge of the goal horn off guard, already trying to start the celebration.
"It wasn't even close," Hellebuyck said. "That's kind of rude."
Arvidsson got his sixth goal in five games at 11:57 of the period with a wrister off a rebound to pull Nashville to 2-1.
Little gave Winnipeg a 3-1 lead with 45.6 seconds left in the period, swatting the puck past Rinne off the rebound of Patrik Laine's shot.
Tanev made it 4-1 when he redirected a shot by Niku at 1:54 of the third. Lemieux got his second at 15:38.
"They are a fast team, and they are big," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's not like we've never beaten the Jets. They've always been this way. Tonight they had their game. They were better."