Jets eliminate Predators with Game 7 win in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tennessee - A 5-1 win in Game Seven Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena means the Winnipeg Jets are off to their first ever Western Conference Final.
Paul Stastny scored twice, and Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves in the milestone win.
But the performance of Blake Wheeler can't be forgotten.
Wheeler seemed relaxed after this morning's pre-game skate, and welcomed the opportunity to play in a Game Seven on the road against the Presidents Trophy winning Nashville Predators.
That attitude rubbed off on the rest of the room and onto the ice, where the Jets never looked out of place in the biggest game in franchise history.
"Win or lose we wanted to play our game. It's what has given us success all year," said Wheeler, who had two assists and leads the team with 12 helpers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "That was it. Just to keep it pretty simple, have a great first period and just play our game all night."
"It was everything," said Hellebuyck when asked about how being loose helped the team. "We wanted to have fun in this game. Game Sevens are pretty rare and just being part of it, you could just tell they were really enjoying themselves."
Wheeler played a huge role in Mark Scheifele's first goal of the night, which gave the Jets a 3-1 lead, and a bit of breathing room in the second period. He blocked a shot in the defensive zone, which led to Winnipeg heading down the ice. Then Wheeler slid a pass over to Scheifele who fired it home.
"It allowed our group to breathe a little bit," explained Wheeler. "I think we were pretty loose all game. I didn't see us checking the clock until late in the game to watch it tick down. To get a two-goal lead, especially with two minutes left in the second period, you know that was a big boost for us."
"We follow our leader, we really do," said coach Paul Maurice when asked about his team's drive to win. "For those of you haven't covered us, I would have talked about Blake Wheeler at length all the time. So that's his game - do anything at anytime."
Maurice was also happy to point out that in the four games in Nashville this postseason, the Jets didn't lose in regulation once. The only setback was that 5-4 double overtime loss back in Game Two of the series.
"I think right now we are just thrilled to move on," said Wheeler. "We're pretty pleased to knock off a team like Nashville. I mean that was every bit the series we expected it to be. What a great team they are. There's no doubt why they had the best regular season record, they are just tough from top to bottom and made our life miserable all series, and I think we tried to do that to them as well.
"It's too bad one of us had to be knocked off here, but I think nights like tonight you really try to soak it in, enjoy it, and then wake up tomorrow and get ready for a big game on Saturday."