Jets, Preds battle for playoff positioning
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and meet for the final time this regular season with Saturday afternoon's clash at Bridgestone Arena.
Though just two teams have fewer points in the Western Conference than both the Jets and Predators, the clubs are in arm's reach of a wild card spot. Winnipeg is two points behind Dallas and Vancouver for the second bonus spot, with Nashville two points in back of the Jets.
The Jets have used a surge under new head coach Paul Maurice to get into the race, going 10-3-1 since he took over for the fired Claude Noel. Winnipeg is 4-1-1 in its last six, taking a 3-2 shootout decision over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.
After the first four skaters missed to open the shootout, Winnipeg's Devin Setoguchi ripped a shot past Mike Smith's blocker to put the Jets on top, but Antoine Vermette answered for Phoenix at the other end.
Olli Jokinen then flipped a wrister over Smith's stick-side before Ondrej Pavelec poke-checked the puck away from Mike Ribeiro to lift the Jets to victory.
Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler both lit the lamp in regulation, while Pavelec posted 34 saves prior to the shootout.
"That one was kind of a slugfest for the puck all night," Maurice said. "That's the way our games are going to look now. If you can get two points on teams that are scratching and clawing, at this point, we're taking it."
Nashville also battled for two points on Thursday, rallying past the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 3-2 victory. That snapped the Predators' three-game losing streak (0-1-2) and gave them a split of the first two games of six in a row at home.
Carter Hutton needed to make just 14 saves and settled down after giving up a pair of first-period goals. Nashville outshot Tampa Bay 21-7 over the final two periods, with Roman Josi and Matt Cullen scoring power-play markers in the second frame.
Patrick Hornqvist then netted the game-winner, also on the man advantage, with 6:04 remaining in the third period and Shea Weber posted two assists.
"Yeah, I think we really did a really good job in moving the puck," said Hornqvist. "Our second effort was really good. It felt like we got the puck back almost every time, and that obviously leads to tired defensemen out there, and then we can make some plays. I think overall we did a really good job, and 5-on-5 too."
With Pekka Rinne having started a conditioning assignment in his recovery from a hip injury, Hutton and Dubnyk figure to see their time in net decreasing in the near future.
Hutton is 3-1-0 with a 2.80 goals against average in his career versus the Jets, while Dubnyk is 2-1-0 against them with a 3.71 GAA.
The Predators are 3-1 versus the Jets this season and have won five of six as well as nine of the last 12 meetings. That includes four victories in a row in Nashville.
03/01 08:45:04 ET