That the NHL’s two best teams during the regular season are going to a Game 7 on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., isn’t a big surprise.
That the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators have mirrored each other statistically in several key areas speaks to how equal — and good — they are and were in combining for 231 regular season points.
In their Western Conference semifinal, they have each attempted 338 shots and put 177 shots on net during 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick. Nashville has a 12-11 edge in 5-on-5 goals, while Winnipeg owns a 66-65 advantage in high-danger chances.
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The teams have also alternated wins, with the Jets taking the odd-numbered games. Both are 2-1 on the road in the series, so one could say that the Predators have home-ice disadvantage for a win-or-die showdown.
But there is one big factor in Nashville’s favor — Game 7 experience. Its roster has a combined 45 games of Game 7 experience, as opposed to Winnipeg’s 12. Only seven Jets have ever played in a Game 7, none with this franchise.
It is Winnipeg’s first Game 7 since the franchise moved from Atlanta following the 2010-11 season, and the Predators’ third in franchise history. It’s also the first Game 7 Nashville has ever played at home.
“I would expect that the way we play matters the most,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’re certainly glad to be back in our building with our fans, they’ve been incredible all year long, but we really need to focus on the game. Just make sure we’re ready to play the game and do the right things on the ice.”
Nashville certainly did all the right things in Game 6, other than take three first period penalties. But its penalty-killing and Pekka Rinne’s play in net were matchless as it captured a 4-0 win, preventing the Jets from reaching a conference final for the first time.
Rinne bagged 34 saves for his fifth career postseason shutout, while Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg each scored two goals. Forsberg made the highlight clips with his second goal, a between-his-legs wrister at point-blank range early in the third period that essentially ended the game’s competitive phase.
Winnipeg vows it won’t do anything different in preparation for the biggest game in franchise history.
“There’s no big speech or departure from our game,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said following practice Wednesday. “The important one that was delivered all year is to enjoy what we do. Have the confidence that you’re going to go out and perform at your best. You can’t be on pins and needles.”
Winnipeg has outscored the Predators 22-18 in the series and seems to be the healthier team going into Game 7. While the Jets should be able to ice their regular lineup, Nashville might have to play without center Mike Fisher, who left Game 6 in the first period because of an undisclosed injury and never returned. Fisher didn’t practice on Wednesday.
The series survivor will host Vegas in Game 1 of the conference finals on Saturday night.