Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 17/1/2019 (1302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NASHVILLE — The heightened rivalry between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators ramps up again tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
Just two points separate the Central Division front-runners, who slugged it out in a see-saw, seven-game playoff series back in May. The Jets slipped out of Music City with a victory in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference final.
The Jets (30-14-2), winners of three straight games, lead the division, while the Predators (28-16-4) are right behind, although they've played two more games.
The teams last met here three months ago when the Preds posted a 3-0 shutout in a wild affair in which the Jets were assessed 14 penalties, playing much of the game short-handed.
The clubs have a pair of meetings to come in Winnipeg in March.
Indeed, there's plenty of hype surrounding the battle of two of the NHL's premier squads.
"It’s one of those games that’s on the calendar," said Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice. "Both teams, especially Nashville, have battled some injuries and played well and survived and are getting healthy. We like our game with the injuries that we’ve had, so it’s always special. The fans — just like when Nashville comes to Winnipeg — there’s a little buzz in the building.
"It’s one of those game you’re always worried if you’re ready to go. That’s part coaching job but you know there’s a buzz in the room."
Connor Hellebuyck gets the start between the pipes for Winnipeg. Pekka Rinne, last season's Vezina Trophy recipient as the NHL's top goalie, returns to the crease tonight after getting Tuesday night off.
Rinne's last outing was Saturday in Carolina, when he was rocked for five Hurricane goals on 20 shots and got the hook after two periods.
"We're all excited. It should be fun. Anytime we play them, it seems like there's lot of goals or big saves, and they're physical games," said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey.
"Any time you play a team that's near the top of the standings, a team you're fighting with in the division and a team we got to know in the playoffs, with all those things it makes for an exciting night."
The Predators are 6-1-2 in their last nine games and are coming off a 7-2 triumph over the visiting Washington Capitals Tuesday.
Preds' defenceman P.K. Subban said tonight's clash provides a litmus test for the talented teams.
"The Stanley Cup, or even the division title, isn’t going to be won tonight. But it’s definitely a good measuring stick for both teams. You always want to play well against the best teams in the league," he said. "We want to make sure we’re playing the right way. Individually, if you are competitive at all, you want to make sure that you play well in these types of games."
Right-winger Blake Wheeler skipped the morning skate but will be in the lineup. The Jets captain registered his 50th and 51st assists of the season in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the visiting Vegas Golden Knights and is on a three-game point streak (2G, 3A).
Defenceman Ben Chiarot (lower body) will miss his second straight game, meaning Sami Niku suits up alongside Joe Morrow on the club's third pairing. Dustin Byfuglien (lower body) and Nikolaj Ehlers (upper body) remain sidelined and are still likely weeks away from returning.
Nashville forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, along with Subban, all spent significant time in sick bay but have returned to the lineup.
Arvidsson was on fire early in the season, netting eight goals in a dozen games in October before suffering an upper-body injury Nov. 1. He missed 24 of the next 25 games, finally rejoining his teammates after the holiday break, and has picked up right where he left off. His hat trick against Washington upped his total to nine since his return. He has 17 goals in just 24 games.
The Free Press | Newsletter
Jason Bell | Behind the Bench
Twice a week, the Free Press sports editor keeps you up to date on all that’s happening on the ice, the field, the court, and places in between.
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).