WINNIPEG — Asked following Thursday’s morning skate if there was any chance of seeing a 2-1 result in his team’s high-flying matchup with the Winnipeg Jets, Pekka Rinne just smiled.
“I’m sure there’s a possibility of that,” replied the Predators veteran goalie.
Rinne almost went one better in Game 4, but he won’t care with Nashville now back on level terms in the Western Conference semifinal.
The 35-year-old made 32 saves, losing his shutout bid in the final minute, as the Predators defeated the Jets 2-1 even their second-round series 2-2.
“That was an amazing team effort,” Rinne said. ”We played a really solid game throughout the 60 (minutes).
“Big win for us.”
Having given up 12 goals to the Jets — including five in Winnipeg’s 7-4 comeback victory in Game 3 — for an .890 save percentage, Rinne and his teammates survived an early push, got the lead through goals from Ryan Hartman and P.K. Subban, and never really looked back.
“I just thought our attitude was right,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. ”We just competed a little bit harder.
“We were a little smarter with our game, but competed a little bit harder as well.”
Patrik Laine replied for the Jets, who got 27 stops from Connor Hellebuyck.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series goes Saturday in Nashville, with Game 6 set for Winnipeg on Monday.
Game 7, if necessary, would be back in Nashville next Thursday.
While not really at fault on any of the five goals he allowed in Game 3, Rinne still rebounded in impressive fashion behind a club that played much better defensively and won the vast majority of the 50-50 battles.
The Jets had far less space in the neutral zone to operate, but also saw a couple of golden opportunities just bounce over their sticks.
“They had five guys behind the red line and we were a little stubborn — didn’t want to make them turn around and bring the puck out,” said Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler, whose team saw its 13-game home winning streak snapped. ”They pounced on a loose puck and we chased the game.”
Leading 1-0 after the first period, the Predators stretched their advantage to two with 5:24 left in the second when Subban blasted a one-timer on Nashville’s first power play of the night through Hellebuyck for his third goal of the series, and third of the playoffs.
Booed by the thunderous white-clad crowd every time he’s touched the puck the last two games, Subban seemed to feed off the noise directed his way at the cauldron that is Bell MTS Place.
“The biggest thing is we had full commitment through our lineup to play defence,” Subban said. ”In our zone when bounces didn’t go our way, we worked the puck out.
“We got in the neutral zone, we got pucks deep, we forechecked when we needed to and we paid attention to the details.”
The Jets had a couple of great chances to tie the game earlier in the period, with Kyle Connor missing on a pass from Bryan Little in the slot on a man advantage before Mark Scheifele saw the puck skip over his stick on a 2-on-1 with Wheeler moments before Subban silenced the home crowd with his power-play effort.
Laine scored on a 6-on-4 advantage with 50.2 seconds left in the third — his third of the playoffs and first of the second round — but the Predators held on from there to wrestle back home-ice advantage.
“It was just one of those games,” Little said of Nashville’s approach. ”It wasn’t anything special, it wasn’t one specific thing. You go back through the game, you look at some of the chances we had, and we were so close many times. I liked the way we played. We had good chances.
“It was just one of those nights where it wasn’t bouncing in our favour.”
The Predators opened the scoring with 2:40 left in the first when Hartman scored his second of the playoffs off a scramble in front. An attempted clear by Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot in front instead went off defence partner Tyler Myers and right to Hartman, who was quickest to the loose puck before beating Hellebuyck upstairs.
The teams traded chances earlier in the period, with Hellebuyck stopping Roman Josi and Scott Hartnell on 2-on-1 breaks, while the butt end of Rinne’s stick got in the way of Josh Morrissey’s backhand chance along the ice at the other end.
“So lucky,” Rinne said. ”I mean, I’ll take that any day. But it was so lucky. I wish I could say I did that on purpose.”
Notes: The Jets inserted winger Joel Armia into the lineup after he missed the first three games of the series with an upper-body injury. Rookie forward Jack Roslovic was a healthy scratch. … Hartnell drew in for Kevin Fiala, who scored in double overtime for Nashville in Game 2. The Predators also dressed defenceman Yannick Weber in place of Alexei Emelin.