Hellebuyck, Jets steal 4-3 OT victory over Nashville for fourth straight win

The Winnipeg Jets have clinched a top-three spot in the Central Division after earning a 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.

The Jets probably didn’t deserve the two points, but Connor Hellebuyck was spectacular, and Kyle Connor scored in overtime for their fourth straight victory to guarantee the Jets finish no lower than third place in the division.

The Jets scored three times in the first period, but squandered a two-goal lead in the third and surrendered a season-high 48 shots on goal.

“We played well in the first and we played really well after they tied it up,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “In between, it wasn’t our best hockey, for sure. But we’ve played better than that and lost, so we’ll take that. Our goalie was outstanding.”

Nikolaj Ehlers and Cole Perfetti were both benched for much of the final frame and didn’t see the ice again after the midway point of the period. Ehlers also rode the pine for a good chunk of the first after his turnover led directly to the Predators’ first goal.

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Winnipeg was outshot 34-9 in the second and third periods.

“We knew we had to play better,” said Bowness. “It was turnovers and the penalties just took the flow right out of our game, and gave them life. And they just kept coming at us.

“A little more discipline, stay out of the box, don’t give those guys momentum, and just again, puck management.”

The Jets took a 3-1 lead into the final frame, but the Preds scored a pair of goals a little over two minutes apart to force the game into overtime.

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“That definitely felt like a playoff game and yeah, they brought it tonight and they probably deserved better,” said Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. “We felt we gave them those goals. There’s a lot we could have done better. So just take a deep breath and move on. And just try on the next shift, try to get the puck in their end and win your shift. Whoever is out there next, just try to turn the momentum the way you can.

“So you got be able to manage your emotions, manage the game. There’s going to be ebbs and flows, so when things happen like that, get back to the basics, and get back to our game.”

The victory is Winnipeg’s 23rd road victory, establishing a new franchise record.

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Connor Hellebuyck made 45 saves in the win, while the Jets only mustered 22 shots on goal.

Nashville opened the scoring 4:05 into the first period when Tommy Novak capitalized on a neutral zone turnover and beat Hellebuyck for his 16th goal of the season.

However, the Jets responded just under three minutes later when Gabe Vilardi scored a highlight reel power play goal.  Vilardi took a Scheifele feed on his backhand before going between his legs in tight and roofing it top shelf above a surprised Juuse Saros.

The goal was Vilardi’s team-leading eighth power play goal and 20th of the season – in just 43 games.

Minutes later, Winnipeg took a lead. Tyler Toffoli helped create a turnover at the offensive zone and gave Scheifele a pass to lead him into open ice.  Scheifele made no mistake, scoring his 24th goal of the season.

Winnipeg wasn’t done there, either.

The Jets made it three goals in a span of 5:55 when Morgan Barron found a streaking DeMelo, who ripped a shot past Saros from the slot.  It was DeMelo’s third goal this season.

The ice was slanted towards Winnipeg’s defensive end through the second period, but no goals were scored in large part due to Hellebuyck’s consistency in goal and a little help from Neal Pionk, who pulled a loose puck out of harm’s way.

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Nashville continued to press in the third period, and finally broke through 7:34 into the final frame.

Preds captain Roman Josi’s centring attempt deflected into the air and Spencer Stastney hit it into the net out of mid-air to make it 3-2.

Just two minutes later, another neutral zone turnover led to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-tying goal with so much time and space to walk through the slot and beat Hellebuyck blocker side.

Connor’s 10th game-winning goal this season came 1:52 into overtime. He took a great pass from Mark Scheifele on a 2-on-1 break and shot it past the Predators goalie.

Connor’s OT winner was his 32nd goal of the season. The Jets remain two points back of the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division, after the Avs defeated Minnesota 5-2 Tuesday night. Winnipeg still has a game in hand on Colorado, and the tiebreaker.

Nashville clinches a playoff spot with the single point, but can finish no higher than a wild card spot after the loss.

Winnipeg will continue its road trip through the division on Thursday against the Dallas Stars. The pregame show will begin at 5 p.m. with puck drop just after 7 p.m. on 680 CJOB.

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