Jets can’t dig out of big first period hole in 5-2 loss in Nashville

The Winnipeg Jets fell behind early and could not recover in the Music City on Thursday night.

The Nashville Predators scored three – first period goals in the span of just 13 minutes and cruised to a 5-2 victory.

The Jets saved their best period for last and scored early in the final frame to close the gap to two, but the Preds scored an empty netter to beat the Jets for the first time this season after Winnipeg had won their first meeting back in October.

“I’ve played a lot of games in this rink over the years,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey. “First period is always crucial. We’ve seen that happen a number of times over the years in my career. I just didn’t think we were good enough early on.”

The Jets scored their first goal of the game on a 5-on-3 powerplay, but came up empty in their other four chances with the man advantage.

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“We needed to capitalize on those opportunities on the powerplay,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele. “Obviously we got one on the 5-on-3, but could have been a whole new game if we score early, and change the tempo of the game.”

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Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored goals for Winnipeg. Josh Morrissey recorded a pair of assists.

The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Predators.

“Their level of desperation – you could see it in their play,” said head coach Dave Lowry. “They had some urgency. They put pucks to the goal line. They did what we wanted to do.

“I really liked our third period. I thought we had a good push in the second half of the game. The unfortunate thing is, when you spot a team three (goals), it’s hard to come back and win a hockey game.”

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The Jets challenged the Predators’ first goal of the game for a high-stick, but it stood up upon review.

“I thought the stick, the puck, were over the crossbar, over the shoulder,” Lowry said. “The one angle that we felt was worthy of a challenge. You’re not going to win all of the challenges. The angles that we had, it looked like it was a high-stick. It didn’t go our way.”

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Paul Stastny and Evgeny Svechnikov both returned to the lineup for the Jets after missing time, but the Jets continue to be without Brenden Dillon and Eric Comrie who are still in COVID protocol. Nikolaj Ehlers missed his first game after suffering a knee injury in their last outing.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers out for road trip with injury, Dmitry Orlov suspended

The Predators opened the scoring less than five minutes into the first when a shot from the point was tipped by Eeli Tolvanen. It careened off the post and bounced right back to Tolvanen as he banged it past Connor Hellebuyck, who had no clue where the puck was.

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Winnipeg decided to challenge the goal, arguing that the initial tip was done with a high stick. Review confirmed that the goal was good, giving Nashville a power play that they would not score on.

But just shy of the 12 minute mark, the Preds would double their lead. A shot off the stick of Mikael Granlund redirected off Neal Pionk and past Hellebuyck, giving Nashville a 2-0 advantage.

Things got even worse for the Jets with 2:25 to go when a turnover sent the Preds in on an odd-man rush. Ryan Johansen’s wrist shot squeaked through Hellebuyck, a goal he’d like to have back, putting Nashville up by three goals after 20 minutes.

Winnipeg was given a golden opportunity to get back into the game in the second when Nashville took multiple high-sticking penalties.

On a 5-on-3, Dubois tried sending a pass through the crease that banked in off a Predators defender to put the Jets on the board.

Not long after that, Winnipeg got another power play but could not cash in, and whatever momentum was generated by the power plays vanished when Luke Kunin made it 4-1 for the Preds. A shot from the point deflected off Kunin’s stick before grazing the shin pads of both him and Josh Morrissey, changing directions before going past Hellebuyck.

The third period got off to a dream start for the Jets when Scheifele knocked home a rebound past Juuse Saros just 25 seconds in.

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Winnipeg continued pouring the pressure on Saros all period, outshooting the Preds 15-4 in the third but were unable to crack the code. The officials also let the two teams play in the final 20, calling no penalties after 12 minor infractions were whistled in the opening two periods.

Tanner Jeannot sealed the deal with an empty netter with 21 seconds remaining.

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It was not a banner night for Hellebuyck, who stopped 18 shots in the loss. Saros was excellent, making 36 saves in the win.

As far as special teams are concerned, the Jets killed off all three penalties they took but went 1-for-5 on the power play.

Winnipeg will now prepare for a weekend back-to-back, in Boston Saturday afternoon and Pittsburgh on Sunday.

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