Nashville Predators 4, Winnipeg Jets 3
Fisher's goal lifts Predators past red-hot Jets
WINNIPEG -- Mike Fisher's power-play goal 42 seconds into the third period enabled the Nashville Predators to overcome a blown two-goal lead and the loss of captain Shea Weber to beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 on Tuesday night.
Fisher's 14th of the season snapped a 3-3 tie after Winnipeg had wiped out a 3-1 Predators advantage with two goals in 27 seconds late in the second period.
Twenty-two seconds after the officials waved off a Predators goal when center David Legwand bumped into Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec, the Predators went ahead to stay when Fisher jabbed a rebound off a scramble over the goal line with Winnipeg's Devin Setoguchi off for slashing.
Predators coach Barry Trotz delivered a simple message to his team during the second intermission after Winnipeg's rally.
"We just said, 'Stay the course,'" Trotz said. "I liked the way that we didn't try to deviate from it and just stayed with it. It's good for our young group to learn."
The Predators wrapped up a four-game trip through Western Canada with a 2-1-1 record and slipped one point past the Jets out of last place in the Central Division. At 56 points, the Predators are trying to fight off the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes to climb above the Stanley Cup Playoffs line in the Western Conference.
"We know that we need to go on a tear to get back in it, claw back in, do whatever [we] can," Fisher said. "It's not going to be easy. There are a lot of teams right with us fighting. That's what makes these games exciting. It felt a little bit more like the playoffs, a little more physical. This was a pretty good game."
The Jets, who won on the road against two of the West's best, the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, in the past week, continue to attempt to remain a factor in the playoff race. They fell to 6-2-0 under Paul Maurice, who replaced Claude Noel as coach Jan. 12 after the Jets had lost five straight games.
"That group, you could see it in every one of their faces coming to the bench," Maurice said. "They gave everything they had."
Predators defenseman Seth Jones opened the scoring with his fifth goal. Roman Josi scored his seventh of the season to put the Predators up 2-1 early in the second period, and Nick Spaling's 10th goal made it 3-1 with 2:42 left before intermission.
But the Jets' second line got them back into the game. Rookie Mark Scheifele's 11th goal and Blake Wheeler's team-leading 22nd goal pulled the Jets even after 40 minutes. Wheeler's goal set a new career high. Chris Thorburn, who replaced injured left wing Evander Kane on the Jets' second line, had a first-period goal for Winnipeg, his first of the season.
Carter Hutton, whom Winnipeg knocked out with three first-period goals in a 5-0 win Nov. 8, made 24 saves. Pavelec stopped 21 shots in his ninth start in the Jets' past 10 games.
The Jets expected a tough, grinding game against Nashville.
"Coming in, you felt like it was going to be a really tough game," Wheeler said. "They're a team that just got it handed to them (Sunday in a 5-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers). They play an extremely structured, disciplined game, and it can be frustrating. You definitely have to give these guys credit for the way they came in and played. They weren't taking chances. Everything was very simple."
Weber exited the game 3:28 into the third period with an upper-body injury and did not return. The Predators departed Winnipeg immediately after the game, but team doctors will re-evaluate Weber's condition Wednesday. Weber had played 16:47 through the first two periods, and his departure forced the Predators to skate five defensemen for most of the third period.
"When [Weber] went off, there was a lot of concern," Trotz said.
Jones opened the scoring when he danced past Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom coming down the left boards and swung around the net before scoring on a wraparound at 3:48. The Jets tied the game 22 seconds later when Thorburn tipped Jets defenseman Mark Stuart's point shot past Hutton, ending a personal 50-game goalless streak that dated to April 11, 2013.
Josi finished off a passing play with Craig Smith and Legwand after a push into the Winnipeg zone for a 2-1 lead 42 seconds into the second period. His seven goals are a career high.
Spaling put the Predators up 3-1 at 17:18 when he swatted Paul Gaustad's centering pass behind Pavelec. Rookie Colton Sissons, recalled Monday from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, assisted on the goal in his NHL debut.
The Jets went to work erasing Nashville's 3-1 lead 55 seconds after Spaling's goal. After luring Hutton out of position, Scheifele banked the puck from the goal line off Josi and into the net at 18:13. Wheeler followed with a rising shot that Hutton failed to glove at 18:40.
But Fisher's go-ahead goal put the Jets in a position of having to play catch-up hockey against an opponent that locked down defensively in the third period, even without Weber.
"It was a tough way to start the third period," Wheeler said. "From there, we were fighting an uphill battle."
Weber's absence forced a young Predators defense to pull together. Josi, new acquisition Michael Del Zotto, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are all 23 years old, and Jones is a 19-year-old rookie. Josi finished with a team-leading 27:01, and Jones logged 24:13.
"That's a pretty young group that handled some pressure," Trotz said. "It's great for the learning curve."
Trotz stressed the game's importance to his team early.
"Before the game, [Trotz] put a huge emphasis on this feeling like a playoff game," Jones said. "The crowd is going to be in it, and we've got to do the best job to come out quickly and not let them come down on us. It was such a big game for us, and we had a lot of emphasis on that before the game."
Maurice will continue to reshape the Jets, who host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday before a four-game road trip, in practice this week.
"We have to stay with the defensive parts of the game," Maurice said.