By Ron Wynn
A record breaking season that had such high expectations came crashing down Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Nashville Predators 5-1 in Game 7 of their second round Stanley Cup Playoff series. It was Nashville’s third loss at home in this series, and they ended the playoffs with a very disappointing 3-4 overall home record. It was also a dismal night for Vezina Trophy finalist goalie Pekka Rinne, who surrendered two very weak first period goals and was pulled for the third time this series by head coach Peter Laviolette. He departed at the 10:47 mark, the earliest any team has ever yanked its starting goalie in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff game according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling,” Rinne told the Associated Press afterwards. “You let your teammates down, and that’s what happened tonight. That’s tough to swallow.” While Laviolette labeled the two early goals “fluky,” he also didn’t hesitate to pull Rinne after the second one. “There’s not a lot of things that you can do if a game’s not going your way if you can’t use your timeout,” Laviolette added. “It was way too early to use a timeout at that point. Again, I just tried to send the game in a different direction, put a pause in the game and send it in a different direction.”
Peter Stastny and Mark Scheifele each scored twice for Winnipeg. The Predators were particularly unable to stop Scheifele, who had seven goals during the three wins in Nashville. The Jets’ goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who’s also a Vezina finalist, stopped 36 of 37 Nashville shots, and blanked the Predators in even strength situations. The only Predators’ goal was by P.K. Subban on the power play late in the first period. Juuse Saros finished in goal for Nashville, giving up two more goals. The final Jets’ score was an empty netter. The Predators were simply unable to get any sustained offensive threats going throughout the game, and they really never recovered from the two early goals.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect concerns how poorly Rinne played at home, especially in games 5 and 7, as opposed to his sparkling performances on the road in Games 4 and 6. In those two road games the Predators outscored the Jets 6-1. But in the last two home games they were drubbed by a collective score of 11-3. Other than the double overtime Game 2 win, the Predators were completely outplayed on their home ice, something no one would have predicted for the team that won the President’s Trophy and set franchise records for points and consecutive victories.
Nashville became the ninth President’s Trophy winner in the last 10 years to go out early in the playoffs. Their defeat, coupled with the elimination of the Penquins by the Capitals, means there will be new teams vying for the Stanley Cup.