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Jets rout Preds 6-2, grab 3-2 West semifinal lead
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck got to watch his teammates put on a goal-scoring show in Music City.
Now he can't wait to see what they do back home in Winnipeg with a chance at history.
The franchise that just won its first playoff series in the first round is heading home for Game 6 with a chance to eliminate the Presidents' Trophy winners and clinch Winnipeg's first berth in the Western Conference final.
"It's going to be awesome," Hellebuyck said. "Our home fans have been waiting for this for a while."
Kyle Connor had two goals and an assist as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Saturday night to grab a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven conference semifinal.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said they have a little bit of experience with a chance to close out an opponent. Winnipeg ousted Minnesota in five games in the first round.
"We're going to have to play our best game of the year," said Wheeler, who had three assists. "This is a team that doesn't go away. We've played them 10 times now this year and they fight to the very end every single game. We have a ton of respect for how hard they play every night."
Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, and Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perrault also scored as the Jets got four goals on 14 shots in the second period. Nikolaj Ehlers added two assists.
Yannick Weber and Ryan Johansen each scored for Nashville. The Predators have not won consecutive games since taking a 2-0 lead over Colorado to start the playoffs, but defenseman P.K. Subban insisted they will be back for a Game 7.
"We've got a ton of experience in here," Subban said. "We've had our backs against the wall before. Like I said, we're going to go to Winnipeg, we're going to win a game, we're going to come back here. Every single guy in here believes that."
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette noted his Predators have won in Winnipeg before. They won 2-1 Thursday night to tie up the series at 2-2.
"The plane's already booked, and we were ready to go," Laviolette said. "There's no group that I'd rather be with to win one hockey game than this group."
Pekka Rinne, Nashville's Vezina Trophy finalist, was pulled for the third time this postseason after giving up six goals on 26 shots.
Lady Antebellum became the latest star act to handle the U.S. anthem, and the Grammy-winning trio missed part of the lyrics. But Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton waved the rally towel, and one of first catfish to hit the ice was tossed by Caleb Daniel, a 5-year-old Predators fan with a new heart.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice brought back Perrault on the third line after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
The Predators had plenty of great scoring chances while outshooting the Jets 11-7. Only a great performance by Hellebuyck kept it scoreless through the first period for the first time in this series.
"It starts with Connor," Connor said of Hellebuyck. "He's been the backbone the whole year. He played great again tonight."
They made up for that in the second. Patrik Laine helped get the Jets on the board with a shot that deflected off Stastny's right hand and past Rinne at 7:44. Defenseman Yannick Weber tied it up for Nashville with a wrister from the left circle at 11:08.
Then the Jets scored two of their next three goals 2:05 apart.
First, Connor scored off the rebound of a shot by Scheifele with 7:30 left for his first postseason goal, then Rinne lost his stick in a scrum in the crease. The puck squirted out, and Byfuglien scored with a slap shot for a 3-1 lead with 5:25 remaining. Connor made it 4-1 with a wrister from the slot with just under three minutes to go.
The period seemed to be slipping further away from Nashville when Viktor Arvidsson went to the box for slashing. But Johansen scored his fifth goal this postseason with 2:01 remaining for the first short-handed goal of his career in the postseason.
The Jets made it 5-2 just 28 seconds into the third, stifling any Nashville rally when Scheifele scored his ninth goal this postseason from the slot. Perreault capped the scoring at 6:23 to chase Rinne for the second time this series.
NOTES: Nashville now is 0-4 when trailing after two periods this postseason. ... Weber's goal was the fourth of his career in the postseason and first with Nashville.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
Updated May 6, 2018