Roundup: Jets rout Preds 6-2, grab 3-2 West semifinal lead
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kyle Connor scored two goals and had an assist as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Saturday night, pushing the Presidents’ Trophy winners to the brink of elimination with a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
Now the Jets, who just won their first playoff series in the first round, will have a chance to clinch a spot in their first Western Conference final Monday night in Game 6 back in Winnipeg.
Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves for the Jets.
Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, and Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perrault also scored as the Jets got four goals on 14 shots in the second period. Blake Wheeler also had three assists, and Nikolaj Ehlers added two.
Yannick Weber and Ryan Johansen each scored for Nashville. The Predators have not won consecutive games since taking a 2-0 lead over Colorado to start the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville’s Vezina Trophy finalist, was pulled for the third time this postseason after giving up six goals on 26 shots.
Lady Antebellum became the latest star act to handle the U.S. anthem, and the Grammy-winning trio missed part of the lyrics. But Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton waved the rally towel, and one of first catfish to hit the ice was tossed by Caleb Daniel, a 5-year-old Predators fan with a new heart.
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette switched his lines again, swapping out Scott Hartnell for Kevin Fiala. This change didn’t work.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice brought back Perrault on the third line after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
The Predators had plenty of great scoring chances while outshooting the Jets 11-7. Only a great performance by Hellebuyck kept it scoreless through the first period for the first time in this series.
They made up for that in the second. Patrik Laine helped get the Jets on the board with a shot that deflected off Stastny’s right hand and past Rinne at 7:44. Defenseman Yannick Weber tied it up for Nashville with a wrister from the left circle at 11:08.
Then the Jets scored two goals 2:05 apart. First, Connor scored off the rebound of a shot by Scheifele with 7:30 left for his first postseason goal, then Rinne lost his stick in a scrum in the crease. The puck squirted out, and Byfuglien scored with a slap shot for a 3-1 lead with 5:25 remaining. Connor made it 4-1 with a wrister from the slot with just under three minutes to go.
The period seemed to be slipping further away from Nashville when Viktor Arvidsson went to the box for slashing. But Johansen scored his fifth goal this postseason with 2:01 remaining for the first short-handed goal of his career in the postseason.
Vrana makes most of promotion, Caps win to put Pens on brink
WASHINGTON — Jakub Vrana came to the rink expecting to play on the Capitals’ third line again. He left as a top-liner on top of the world.
Vrana made the most of his promotion to the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, setting up the tying goal and scoring the Game 5 winner as Washington beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 Saturday night to take a 3-2 lead in the second-round series and put the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions on the brink of elimination.
After replacing an ineffective Devante Smith-Pelly on the top line, the 22-year-old rookie sprung Kuznetsov on the breakaway that tied the score early in the third period and took a pass from Ovechkin and scored the go-ahead goal with 4:38 left to send a fired-up crowd into a frenzy. Vrana made Barry Trotz look like a genius for bumping him up the lineup but wasn’t expecting to be his coach’s plan B.
“That’s just how the game rolls,” said Vrana, who also assisted on Brett Connolly’s first-period goal to give him three points. “Sometimes you’re gonna make changes. Today we did. We were all ready.”
That next game, Monday night in Pittsburgh, is the Capitals’ chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in the Ovechkin era and for the first time overall since 1998 when they lost in the Cup Final. They may have to do it without star center Nicklas Backstrom, who left in the third period with an upper-body injury that Trotz said the team will have more information on Sunday.
With Backstrom unable to play the final 13 minutes, Lars Eller double-shifted and Vrana looked like a perfect fit with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. The Capitals are on the verge of beating Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins for the first time in four playoff series dating to 2009 on the strength of top-end scoring and goaltending from Braden Holtby, who stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced.