Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne skates to the bench during a time out in the first period against the St. Louis Blues on November 24, 2017 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
On the night of Feb. 27, it became clear just how much fun a postseason meeting between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators could be.
Putting on what amounted to a track meet on skates, Winnipeg and Nashville swapped goals all night long at Bell MTS Place. The Jets twice took two-goal leads, but the Predators rallied, winning 6-5 when trade deadline acquisition Ryan Hartman scored in the last minute.
The Central Division rivals, who finished with the two highest point totals in the NHL, will start what figures to be a high-scoring Western Conference semifinal series Friday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
"They're obviously a really dangerous team offensively, but there were some fun games," Predators captain Roman Josi said of the Jets. "They're a great team. They have a lot of firepower up front, they've got a great goalie, great defense. It's going to be a fun series and I'm really excited for it."
Nashville had to wait a bit longer than anticipated before it could start preparing for Winnipeg. It had to go six games before eliminating Colorado, doing so emphatically Sunday with a 5-0 decision that included Pekka Rinne's fourth career playoff shutout and three points for the first time in 81 postseason games for center Nick Bonino.
Winnipeg took care of business against Minnesota, sending the Wild to the golf course in five games. Its 5-0 victory in Game 5 on April 20 included a second consecutive playoff shutout for Connor Hellebuyck, as well as Mark Scheifele's fourth goal of the series and two assists for Dustin Byfuglien.
In five regular-season meetings, Nashville and Winnipeg combined for 42 goals, the Predators scoring 22. Nashville won three games, taking two of the three matchups at home.
"It's a high-event game. There's lots of action all the time," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "The game doesn't really slow down when we play. There aren't blocks of time where teams are just dumping pucks and playing the same game. It's very intense and very exciting for the full 60."
Kevin Fiala and Kyle Turris each scored three goals against Winnipeg to lead Nashville.
Nikolaj Ehlers was the Jets' top goal-scorer against the Predators with three. Nashville center Ryan Johansen tallied nine points in the season series, collecting eight assists, and Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler led Winnipeg with six points each.
As befits a matchup of the teams with the league's top point total, there simply isn't much difference across the board.
The Jets were second in the NHL in goals and the Predators were seventh. Nashville was second in the league in fewest goals allowed and Winnipeg was fifth.
Simply put, this has the earmarks of a long series, one that could feel like a Stanley Cup Final two rounds early.
"They're a skilled group, they're a fast group," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said of the Jets. "We can't be worried too much about what they're going to do. We have to be worried about the way we approach games.
"If we can keep playing like we did in that last game in Colorado, I think we have a good chance."