Jets get contributions from everywhere in Game 1 win over Nashville
Tanev-Little-Lowry line sets an early tone in Winnipeg's victory on Friday
There was a lot to like about the Winnipeg Jets' 4-1 victory in their second-round series opener against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators on the road on Friday evening.
You could single out the play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. He had his shutout streak snapped at 163 minutes, but made 47 saves and was particularly good in the first and third periods.
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Veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was super, too. He was like a fourth forward out there at times. He was pleased to have back his old reliable partner Toby Enstrom, who returned from an ankle ailment that had kept him out of the lineup since Mar. 23.
Mark Scheifele also was good again with a key second-period goal to push the Jets out in front to a 3-0 lead, after killing off a Blake Wheeler goalie-interference penalty. Nashville's Filip Forsberg hit the post with a half-open net. Then Wheeler jumped out of the box, backed off the Predators defence, dropped a pass back to Scheifele for a very important goal.
Scheifele added an empty-netter late in the third period.
Nikolaj Ehlers had a nifty rush that led to the Paul Stastny goal midway through the second period.
But where would the Jets be without the effort of third-line centre Bryan Little in this one? The 30-year-old Edmonton-born, Cambridge, Ont.-raised Little has been a bit of forgotten man on Canada's team.
When Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made his astute move at the trade deadline to acquire Stastny from the St. Louis Blues, Little had to swallow his pride. His ice time was reduced as he moved down to his new position on the third line.
Well, there was Little, one of only four players remaining from the franchise's days as the Atlanta Thrashers — Byfuglien, Enstrom and Wheeler are the others — stepping up with a massive manoeuvre to give the Jets a lead.
The old Cambridge Winter Hawk always has been a team player. He never blinked when he had to give up his sweater No. 10 he wore with Atlanta and switch to 18 because No. 10 will forever be attached to the great Dale Hawerchuk in Winnipeg.
After back-to-back shutouts to close out the first-round, five-game win against the Minnesota Wild, Hellebuyck continued his outstanding play and kept his team in early as the Predators swarmed the Jets.
But then Little put together a timely individual effort to take the puck to the Nashville net that resulted in a Brandon Tanev goal from in close to give the Jets a 1-0 lead late in the first period. All of a sudden, the momentum changed in the Jets' favour and they were off and running.
Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice put together the makeshift line of Little between Tanev and Adam Lowry because of the upper-body injury to Joel Armia. The new trio worked out and gave the Jets an important series-opening goal.
The third line was one area the Predators were supposed to have a huge edge in this series with Nick Bonino, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. The threesome enjoyed a fantastic first round with a combined nine goals and 19 points in the six-game win against the Colorado Avalanche.
But Watson played only four minutes and nine seconds in the first period and didn't return because of an undisclosed injury. Little's line came up big.
It's difficult to ignore the stats in this one. The Predators outshot the Jets 48-19 and had way more attempts (shots, shots blocked, missed shots) at 87-39. Nashville also won 35 of 53 faceoffs.
But because of opportunistic plays like the one from Little, the Jets persevered and now have home ice advantage. Something that should come in handy for the best home team in the land.