NHL Mixed Bag: Pound for pound, Jets vs. Predators living up to heavyweight billing

Each Monday during the NHL playoffs, Rob Mixer takes a look at the biggest storylines from the hockey week that was.

Winnipeg-Nashville is the heavyweight fight we hoped (and thought) it would be.

As I was sitting down watching Game 2 last night, there were at least six moments during the game that I thought: “This is just insanely good hockey.” These two teams hate each other — they’re the top two teams in the division, after all, and they get together often — but hatred isn’t at the forefront of this series. It’s not physicality, scrums, fights … it’s high-level, out-of-this-world hockey from two dynamic and loaded teams that simply don’t want to cede one inch to the other.

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The Jets played the ideal road game to take a 1-0 series lead. They were good enough at key moments, played well five-on-five, and were backed up by Connor Hellebuyck’s tremendous performance. In Game 2, the Predators were ready to swing back … and they certainly did.

Ryan Johansen delivered the first blow only 27 seconds into the game.

Bridgestone Arena is thundering. The Predators are feeling it. But the Jets, as they’ve done in the first two games, hung around and pounced on a couple of chances. In the blink of an eye, it’s a 2-1 game and the building is quiet. 

Not so fast. The Predators came right back, tying the game in the second period and then taking a 3-2 lead on Viktor Arvidsson’s lead-foot slap shot past Hellebuyck, a goal that sent the arena into a roar once again. Momentum appeared to be teetering toward the Predators in Game 2, while it didn’t really feel that way in Game 1, and maybe they were ready to strike back in the series and take control of the game.

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But as this series has gone so far — we’re two games in and it’s felt like a lifetime (in a good way) — Winnipeg didn’t go away. Did I mention that this series is awesome? Forget the rest of the second round; let’s just put these two teams in a steel cage and play a best-of-37. 

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I honestly thought the Jets were going to win Game 2. They had their chances in the third period, too. Brandon Tanev tied the game at 5:11, a delightful dash through the neutral zone that culminated in a low boring shot past Pekka Rinne’s stick side. And the lead, shockingly, didn’t last long. Johansen’s second of the game came only 34 seconds later, and it was a work of art.

With Toby Enstrom on his back, Johansen cut to the net and went bar-down on Hellebuyck. For the 300th time in Game 2, the Predators had momentum. They had confidence. They had the building rocking. And the Jets hit them in the mouth in the final minutes of regulation.

Mark Schiefele, game-tying goal with 1:05 to go. The Jets were buzzing. The Jets struck for a dagger.

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The overtime was back and forth, up and down the ice and every rush felt like something special. Rinne and Hellebuyck each made a handful of huge saves to keep it going, and nothing was settled after the first 20-minute period. At that point, you’re wondering how long this can go on — and selfishly, I was settled in for three or four overtimes.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

But let’s talk about the game-winning goal. My goodness.

In a game as tightly contested and entertaining as Game 2 was, you hoped that a special goal would end it. You have Kevin Fiala, who broke his leg in last year’s playoffs and was pretty bad (by his own admission) in this year’s opening round, scoring the biggest goal of his young NHL career to send the Predators to Winnipeg with hope.

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The pass from Craig Smith? Sublime. The patience and poise by Fiala to out-wait Hellebuyck and beat him to the long side, on his backhand? Even better.

It was a fitting end to an incredible game, and luckily for all of us watching, it was only Game 2 of what figures to be a looooooong series.

Article source: http://www.sportingnews.com/nhl/news/nhl-playoffs-2018-predators-jets-highlights-video-second-round-series-schedule/1rv99hqf2hly41fb02cznvai9m

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