WINNIPEG -- Geography and the rigors of the NHL schedule were working against the Nashville Predators on Sunday, but backup goaltender Carter Hutton led them to a victory against the Winnipeg Jets.
After playing at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the Predators made the long trip to Winnipeg to meet the Jets at MTS Centre, where Hutton made his first start of the season, stopped 38 shots and stopped the Jets 3-1 for his first NHL win.
Nashville (5-3-1) ripped open a scoreless game with three second-period goals on seven shots. Eric Nystrom's shorthanded goal 20 seconds into the period gave Nashville a 1-0 lead. Patric Hornqvist then scored his team-leading third goal to build a two-goal lead that Hutton and the Predators rode through the rest of the game. Matt Cullen scored the Predators' third goal to finish off Winnipeg (4-5-0).
"It was a big win for us," Cullen said. "Tough travel, tough back-to-back (set) for us. It's a big two-game stretch for this team. We're wearing teams down. We've got four lines that can skate and play hockey. We had to figure out how we had to play to be successful. We had a lot of new guys just trying to find their comfort zone and fit in with the team, and they have found that."
Nashville has picked up points in its past five games, four of them wins that included a 2-1 road victory Saturday at Montreal. While the Predators played and then flew to Winnipeg overnight, the Jets rested and are nearing the end of a six-game homestand.
"This group is really having a lot of fun together," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of a roster that turned over a third of its roster this past summer. "They're a group that likes to be together, which is awesome."
"[Saturday] we really worked hard," Trotz continued, "couldn't get a break and finally got the win at the end. But you keep working hard, I always say that there are hockey gods. If you keep doing the right things over and over again, they might not reward you today, but they're going to reward you down the road.
"Winning in Montreal on a Saturday night was big for us," Trotz added. "[There's] such a great atmosphere there. Coming to Winnipeg, we knew it was going to be a tough place to come and win a hockey game. It always has been and will continue to be, so it was a tough challenge for us."
Hutton, a 27-year-old offseason signing whose only work this season was relief duty Oct. 3 against the St. Louis Blues, gave workhorse goaltender Pekka Rinne a break as the Predators are in a stretch in which they play nine of 11 games on the road. Evander Kane's goal with 10:47 left in the game ended Hutton's shutout bid.
"Playing behind Pekka," Hutton said, "he's a world-class goalie, so when I do get a chance to play, I need to find ways to win. That's what they brought me in for. You never know when [the first NHL win is] going to come, right? You've got to stick [with] it."
Hutton is from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and had his family and friends at MTS Centre to see him play. Trotz had told Hutton in advance that Sunday would be his first start.
"I think the guys really respect someone who has put in the time and worked as hard as he has to get his game [ready]," Trotz said. "It's really special for our group getting him a win. He was ready for the start, and I was hoping that we could rally around him in terms of getting him a win with friends and family [in the building]."
Ondrej Pavelec started for the eighth time in Winnipeg's first nine games and gave the Jets 23 saves. Winnipeg was missing injured defensemen Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba and center Jim Slater.
Coach Claude Noel again shuffled his forward lines, inserting Devin Setoguchi, a healthy scratch Friday in a 4-3 shootout win against St. Louis, back into the Jets' lineup in an attempt to spark an offense still searching for consistency.
"You can't just play to play," Noel said. "And certainly there were periods of time to me that we played to play; certainly the first half of the game, we just played to play. You have to be emotionally connected to the game than just playing to play, and we're not getting enough."
Winnipeg's seven home dates so far lead the League, but the Jets have two wins through the homestand's first five games.
"We can't think we're going to make a comeback every single game," Pavelec said. "We have to find a way to start winning games. The way we've been playing all season long is not the way to be successful. We have to change something and we have to change something now."
Nashville's Matt Hendricks took a tripping minor 10 seconds into the second period, giving the Jets their second power play. But Nystrom blocked Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien's point shot, cruised into the Winnipeg zone and backed off defender Tobias Enstrom before snapping a hard shot past Pavelec 10 seconds into the Hendricks minor for the Predators' first shorthanded goal this season.
Hornqvist stopped Pavelec's clearing attempt at the right boards and directed a shot that was heading wide until it deflected off Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian's skate and into the Winnipeg net at 12:07.
Cullen extended Nashville's lead to 3-0 at 14:57. Nashville pulled Pavelec out of position, drawing the goaltender to the ice, and Cullen drove a shot under the crossbar from the left dot seven seconds after a Nashville power play expired.
The Jets cut the Nashville lead to 3-1 midway through the third period when Kane jabbed a rebound under Hutton's pads at 9:13. Kane's goal provided the game's lone bright spot for the Jets.
"We needed to get secondary shots," Noel said. "We got shots, but we didn't get a lot of secondary shots, and we certainly didn't battle hard enough to make the goalie work."
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