But then the unfathomable happened. And now, instead of preparing for Game 4 on Thursday with a 2-1 series lead, the Predators trail by that same margin and are in danger of facing elimination when they return home for Game 5 on Saturday.
After absolutely dominating the Jets in every facet of the game for the first 20 minutes, the Predators poked the bear with the pointiest of sticks and turned a three-goal cushion into a three-goal deficit.
Center Austin Watson caught Jets captain Blake Wheeler with a hit to the head early in the second period, knocking his helmet off, causing normally mild-mannered Mark Scheifele to wrestle him to the ground, negating what would have been a Winnipeg power play.
From that point on, the Jets were a different team, finishing hits, outskating and outshooting the Predators and recapturing the most elusive of intangibles — momentum.
Winnipeg center Paul Stastny got things going less than three minutes into the second period when defenseman Jacob Trouba’s shot from the point hit his skate and deflected past Pekka Rinne and the comeback was on. Within three more minutes, both Dustin Byfuglien and Trouba had bulged the twine behind arguably the NHL’s best goalie this season and Bell MTS Place, which just a few minutes earlier had resembled a morgue, had been transformed into a madhouse.
When Byfuglien put the Jets ahead 4-3 with just 45 seconds remaining in the period, it was so loud that fans couldn’t hear their own voices inside their own heads. Even though Nashville tied things at 4-4 in the third, the Jets had the ice tilted in their favor and Wheeler scored two goals in the third, including the game-winner.
“I was mad at (Scheifele) at first because I thought we had a power play,” Wheeler told a media scrum. “It’s one of those things that you hate to see (Scheifele) go to the box with anyone. I’d rather have him on the ice. I’m okay, I can take that (hit). But I would do the same for him. That’s what teammates do for each other.”