They were among the best in the league, so it is no surprise that this Stanley Cup playoff series between the Jets and the Predators is going the distance. The seventh and deciding game goes Thursday night.
They have met 11 times since November, and Nashville has won six. Three of five in the regular season were decided by one goal, the others by two.
Through six games in the second round, neither team has been able to win more than one in a row. They are each winning on the road in front of hostile crowds.
“It has been up and down and back and forth,” said Paul Stastny, the Jets centre, in the dressing room after Nashville’s 4-0 victory Monday. “A lot of people wanted a Game 7. It is probably right for it to end this way.”
The Jets failed to clinch the series at home in Game 6 and now must do it at Bridgestone Arena. It would be easy to presume the Predators will have a sizable advantage, but they have lost two of three there so far.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday. The Jets took the day off and planned to travel to Nashville on Wednesday. “For you to write a story on the series, you would have to write six different stories.”
They split the first two in Tennessee, with the Predators escaping in overtime in Game 2. The Jets won Game 3 at home, but then lost at Bell MTS Place with an opportunity to go up 3-1. They won in Nashville on Saturday to get within a victory of reaching the third round for the first time, but then fumbled that chance.
Now, Game 7 awaits. The winner advances to play the Vegas Golden Knights in the conference final. The loser laments.
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“It is do or die,” the Jets’ Mathieu Perreault said. “We have a chance to win in seven. When [you] start playing hockey at five years old, you have that expectation.”
The Jets were tight and star-crossed on Monday night. They gave up a goal a little more than a minute into the game and never got untracked. They had three power plays in the first period and failed to convert. They had a fourth while down 2-0 with the same result.
Nashville won handily behind Pekka Rinne’s 34 saves. The Predators netminder was yanked in Saturday’s 6-2 defeat. In the games immediately before and after, the Jets had one goal and none.
“If you score on the first power play, you feel good,” Stastny said. The Jets acquired him in a deal with St. Louis at the trade deadline. “That just the way it goes sometimes.
“That is the way the playoffs are. There is no momentum no matter what. You start fresh the next day.”
The Predators have experience to bank on after reaching the Stanley Cup final last season. The pressure and fatigue that comes with the postseason is new to many of Winnipeg’s players.
“There are going to be butterflies, but the minute you step on the ice you are in your comfort zone again,” Stastny said. “We have been doing this our whole life.
“Sometimes you think it is bigger than it is, and you try to do too much.
“You just have to enjoy it and have no regrets.”
Neither Predators coach Peter Laviolette nor Maurice is surprised the series has gone seven games, even if the route to get there has been unconventional.
“It is the best part of my job,” Maurice said. “They are always the most memorable games and the most exciting.
“There is absolutely a different feel. It is one last game. There is a finality coming. There is a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of excitement. I can feel it starting now.”
The Jets missed an opportunity to eliminate the Predators once. There is not enough time for them to think about it or be disappointed.
They still have one more chance to get to the third round. From there, they would be only four wins shy of playing in the Stanley Cup final for the first time.
“If you told me beforehand that we were going to go to Nashville to play a Game 7, I would take that any day,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said.