Momentum on Jets’ side ahead of Game 4 vs. Preds

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — With a three-goal first period lead, there’s no doubt many members of the Nashville Predators were convinced it was just a matter of 40 minutes until they reclaimed home-ice advantage in their second-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets.

But then the unfathomable happened. And now, instead of preparing for Game 4 on Thursday with a 2-1 series lead, the Predators trail by that same margin and are in danger of facing elimination when they return home for Game 5 on Saturday.

After absolutely dominating the Jets in every facet of the game for the first 20 minutes, the Predators poked the bear with the pointiest of sticks and turned a three-goal cushion into a three-goal deficit.

Center Austin Watson caught Jets captain Blake Wheeler with a hit to the head early in the second period, knocking his helmet off, causing normally mild-mannered Mark Scheifele to wrestle him to the ground, negating what would have been a Winnipeg power play.

From that point on, the Jets were a different team, finishing hits, outskating and outshooting the Predators and recapturing the most elusive of intangibles — momentum.

Winnipeg center Paul Stastny got things going less than three minutes into the second period when defenseman Jacob Trouba’s shot from the point hit his skate and deflected past Pekka Rinne and the comeback was on. Within three more minutes, both Dustin Byfuglien and Trouba had bulged the twine behind arguably the NHL’s best goalie this season and Bell MTS Place, which just a few minutes earlier had resembled a morgue, had been transformed into a madhouse.

When Byfuglien put the Jets ahead 4-3 with just 45 seconds remaining in the period, it was so loud that fans couldn’t hear their own voices inside their own heads. Even though Nashville tied things at 4-4 in the third, the Jets had the ice tilted in their favor and Wheeler scored two goals in the third, including the game-winner.

“I was mad at (Scheifele) at first because I thought we had a power play,” Wheeler told a media scrum. “It’s one of those things that you hate to see (Scheifele) go to the box with anyone. I’d rather have him on the ice. I’m okay, I can take that (hit). But I would do the same for him. That’s what teammates do for each other.”

Byfuglien, in addition to his usual physical dominance, has also been making an impact on the scoresheet with 10 points to lead all defensemen. In fact, he has as many goals — three — as the entire Predators’ defense this postseason. Nashville led the NHL in goals (56) and points (206) from their rear-guards during the regular season.

Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm acknowledged that Byfuglien, who weighs 265 pounds, has been a dominant force.

“In today’s game, it’s all about speed and it’s all about moving your feet,” he told The Tennessean. “He can still do that being a large human being, so it’s impressive, for sure.”

Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, who has been out since the first round of the playoffs but has been skating in a full-contact jersey for a couple of days, has been cleared to play and is a possibility for Thursday.