NHL playoffs 2018: Jets crush Predators in Game 7, advance to first-ever conference final

If each game in this back-and-forth, uber-entertaining clash between the Predators and Jets must be told via six different stories, as the all-wise Paul Maurice suggests , get ready to expect the unexpected in the seventh and final chapter to decide who advances to the Western Conference finals. 

Thursday’s Game 7 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC) has the makings of a classic between the two best teams in the NHL. It’s cliche to say a series is too close to call when it goes the distance. That much was expected with these teams involved, but this one literally has been decided by the slimmest of margins so far. 

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For two teams that also couldn’t stop scoring against each other in the regular season — four of the five regular season games featured at least a combined eight goals — this playoff series has turned into a defensive battle at times. The score has been tied or within one goal a staggering 64 percent of the series.

In Game 1, Winnipeg got a huge effort from Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 47 shots in a 4-1 Jets victory.

The teams exploded offensively in Game 2, a 5-4 Predators victory in double-overtime, and in Game 3, a 7-4 Jets win, but Nashville clamped down for a 2-1 win in Game 4. The Jets limited the Predators to two goals in a 6-2 Game 5 victory before Pekka Rinne and Co. shut out Winnipeg 4-0 in Game 6.

In a toss-up scenario such as this, either Rinne or Hellebuyck will be leaned on heavily and could be the difference again. If it comes down to controlling the pace of play, the Predators hold the advantage with their quartet of shutdown blueliners. Or maybe the Jets and Preds will revert to their regular season ways in another high-scoring thriller. Nashville will have to do it without Mike Fisher, who’s been ruled out . Both teams otherwise are expected to be at full strength.

The winner hosts the Golden Knights on Saturday to begin the Western Conference finals.

Sporting News has live updates and highlights throughout the game. See below to find out how it unfolds. (All times Eastern.)

Third period

10:36 p.m. — GOAL. Mark Scheifele buries an empty-netter with 2:33 to go. With his second goal tonight, he leads the Stanley Cup playoff field with 12. And he also set a new NHL record with seven road goals in a playoff series. 

10:25 p.m. — GOAL. There it is. Paul Stastny, trade deadline acquisition, gets his second goal and third point of the night with 8:01 to play. He has 14 points in the postseason, making GM Kevin Cheveldayoff look awfully smart. Winnipeg leads 4-1. Nashville’s season appears over.

10:24 p.m. — The Predators aren’t going to make it any easier on themselves. Ryan Johansen takes a slashing penalty with 8:28 remaining. A fourth goal for Winnipeg here would be the dagger.

10:22 p.m. — Mark Scheifele is having some kind of playoffs and is now tied for the goal-scoring lead with 10, including six in the second round alone. He’ll be among the Conn Smythe front-runners if the Jets keep advancing.

10:11 p.m. — Connor Hellebuyck didn’t see much action in the second period, but he’s still dialed in here in the third, stopping all six Nashville shots so far including this beauty on a Kyle Turris backhand in tight. Turris is frustrated; he’s yet to score a goal in these playoffs and doesn’t have a point since Game 2 of this series.

10:03 p.m. — The third period has begun. Winnipeg is 20 minutes away from its first-ever trip to the conference finals.

Second period: Jets 3, Predators 1

Shots on goal: Jets 17, Predators 16

9:46 p.m. — The second period draws to a close. It was all Jets, who appeared as though they were on the power play and regain the shot advantage. Predators need a big third-period comeback to save their season.

9:43 p.m. — Well, the Predators get another shot on the power play with 59 seconds left. Josh Morrissey is called for holding. Nashville is 1 for 3 so far.

9:41 p.m. —   GOAL. The Predators pay for their period-long defensive-zone woes. Mark Scheifele catches a cross-zone pass from Blake Wheeler and rips a shot past Juuse Saros to give the Jets their two-goal lead back. It’s 3-1 with 2:10 to go in the second.

9:36 p.m. — The Jets are all over the Predators in the second period. Juuse Saros has made two huge saves on Paul Stastny and Kyle Connor to keep Nashville within a goal. Winnipeg holds an 8-3 advantage in shots on goal in the period with under 3 minutes to play.

9:20 p.m. — What a save by Juuse Saros on Paul Stastny. He bailed out Colton Sissons, who committed the near-disastrous turnover in the defensive zone that left Stastny with a point-blank opportunity in front. Remember that one later on.

9:13 p.m. — Entering Game 7, Jets held a lead for 52.5 percent of total game time at Bridgestone Arena compared to the Predators’ 15.6 percent. Nashville is playing from behind once again. 

9:11 p.m. — The second period is under way.

First period: Jets 2, Predators 1

Shots on goal: Predators 10, Jets 8

8:50 p.m. —  Credit to Peter Laviolette​. He doesn’t take the wait-and-see approach with Rinne, who runs hot and cold, and it pays dividends early. The Jets managed just one shot on Saros the rest of the period after the goalie swap. Rinne has a career .903 save percentage in the postseason, including .848 at home in this series.

8:44 p.m. — GOAL. P.K. Subban makes ’em pay on the power play. He unleashed a point blast that found its way through traffic and beat Connor Hellebuyck for a sorely needed goal with 4:06 to go in the first. Subban’s fourth goal of the series has breathed new life into Bridgestone Arena.

8:42 p.m. — Predators get a chance to recapture some momentum as Kyle Connor takes a cross-checking penalty on P.K. Subban with 5:07 remaining in the first.

8:30 p.m. — GOAL.  Make that 2-0, Jets, and it’s another one that’ll make Preds fans cringe. Paul Stastny was operating harmlessly behind the net, but catches Rinne cheating off the post and stuffs it over the goal line. Rinne’s night is over after allowing back-to-back softees on seven shots. He played just 10:30. Juuse Saros is in; he’s played all of 122 minutes of playoff hockey in his life. This is worst-case scenario for Nashville. 

8:29 p.m. — NHL PR chimes in with a reminder on how important that first goal can be, especially in a Game 7.

8:26 p.m. — GOAL. Jets strike first. Tyler Myers, skating parallel to the Nashville net, flicks a seemingly harmless shot toward Pekka Rinne, who somehow let’s it slip by him short side and into the net 8:41 into the first period. Rinne is going to want that one back.

8:21 p.m. —  Winnipeg survives the first Nashville power play. Connor Hellebuyck has looked sharp early, making five stops in the opening 6:18.

8:17 p.m. — The first penalty of the game goes against the Jets, a high-sticking minor on Andrew Copp. Predators head to the power play 3:08 in.

8:11 p.m. — The puck is down on Game 7. Let’s do that hockey.


8:08 p.m. —  Sheryl Crow delivers a solid rendition of the national anthem ( and gets all the words right ). Former Titans running back Eddie George then takes the ice, waving the rally towel. Nashville is bumping. Catfish count: At least three. Probably more.

7:58 p.m. — Andddd starting lineups are in. No surprises. Calle Jarnkrok is filling in for Mike Fisher on the Preds’ fourth line.

7:40 p.m. —  Teams have taken the ice for warmups. 

5:20 p.m. — The Predators announced Mike Fisher won’t be in the lineup after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 6. He’s day to day, the team said, but that may not matter much. Fisher, who came out of retirement mid-season to aid Nashville’s Stanley Cup pursuits, has centerred the fourth line and scored in Game 3.

3 p.m. — The Jets held an optional morning skate Thursday and werw without several notables, including Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny and Tyler Myers. All are expected to play. Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Bryan Little all returned to the ice after skipping Wednesday’s practice.

Jets’ projected lineup:

Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler

Nikolaj Ehlers – Paul Stastny – Patrik Laine

Mathieu Perreault – Bryan Little – Joel Armia

Brandon Tanev – Adam Lowry – Andrew Copp

Josh Morrissey – Jacob Trouba

Toby Enstrom – Dustin Byfuglien

Ben Chiarot – Tyler Myers

Connor Hellebuyck

Predators’ projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala – Kyle Turris – Craig Smith

Colton Sissons – Nick Bonino – Austin Watson

Scott Hartnell – Miika Salomaki/Mike Fisher – Calle Jarnkrok

Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne

Sporting News’ Evan Sporer contributed to this report.

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