P.K. Subban is as welcome in Winnipeg as six more weeks of winter. Nashville’s fiery defenceman is booed off the ice at the end of pregame warmups. The cacophony only grows once hostilities between the Predators and the Jets begin for real. No matter what he does at Bell MTS Place, the audience jeers. The exception is the odd moment when he is caught committing a penalty or is dumped on the seat of his pants. That is cheered.
He annoys the mass of whiteout worshipers by ignoring them and scoring goals.
“It is just a lot of noise,” Subban says.
On Thursday, he scored the deciding goal with a wicked one-timer, and with that perhaps altered the course of a Stanley Cup semi-final series. Instead of returning home in a 3-1 hole and hurting, the Predators are tied with the Jets heading into Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.
Many in Smashville will be dressed in Subban jerseys. Some will wear them while taking a sledgehammer to a junked plane parked just outside the arena’s front doors. Ten dollars gets a couple of swings. Usually, an old jalopy is used in this fundraising venture, but with the Jets in town, a plane was purloined.
Subban has scored on power plays in each of the past three games in the best-of-seven showdown between adversaries that earned the most points in the NHL during the regular season. He has nine points in nine games against Winnipeg and is playing like a Norris Trophy candidate. He is one of the finalists for the award given to the league’s best defender, along with Drew Doughty of Los Angeles and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.
The Jets and the Predators combined to score 20 goals in Games 2 and 3, but defence prevailed in Game 4 for the first time in the series. Subban was dominant throughout. He rocked Jets defenceman Brandon Tanev in the early going and decked Mark Scheifele not long after. His goal put Nashville up 2-0 with 5:24 remaining and became the game-winner when Patrik Laine scored with 50 seconds left to make it 2-1.
He has three goals and two assists in the series and is generally making a pest of himself. He was in the penalty box when Winnipeg scored at the end. It is the second successive game in which he has taken a consequential penalty.
“Short of that, he had a monster game,” Peter Laviolette, the Predators coach, said. “He was a beast out there.”
Each of the past three games has been decidedly different, but are an indication of how closely matched the teams are. Nashville won Game 2 in double-overtime to prevent losing the first two games at home. The Jets responded by winning 7-4 at home in Game 3, exploding for three goals in three minutes of the third period. Game 4 then became a battle of the goalies, with the Predators’ Pekka Rinne stopping 32 of 33 shots. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck had 27 saves in a hard-luck loss.
“Your goal when you go on the road is to steal a game,” Hellebuyck said. “We did our job and then they did theirs. There is a reason we were one and two [in points].
“These are two good teams going at it. You have to expect that it is going to be a battle right to the end.”
Blake Wheeler, the Winnipeg captain, said he knew winning the series was going to be difficult.
“Not for a second did we come into this thinking we would breeze through it,” he said. “We just got behind by a goal tonight and couldn’t turn the switch.”
After the game Subban was more focused on his mistakes than his goal, or the crowd taunting him.
“I’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” he said. “If I don’t, it is going to really cost us.”
He is back home in Nashville for a few days. The series returns to Winnipeg on Monday for Game 6.
The Jets will either have an opportunity to clinch at home, or to stave off elimination.
“If you have been in enough playoff games, you know there is nothing safe,” Laviolette said. “You have to play every game like it could be the swing game.”