By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Jets veteran forward Paul Stastny keeps proving his worth to Winnipeg.
Stastny scored two goals to lead Winnipeg to a 6-4 victory over the Nashville Predators before 14,020 fully vaccinated fans at the Canada Life Centre on Saturday – but the Jets had to hang on to get the job done.
Just 26 seconds after Nashville defenceman Roman Josi pulled the Predators to within 4-3 at 3:10 of the third period, Stastny scored his second of the game to restore the two-goal lead when he deflected a Neal Pionk point shot past Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros.
Winnipeg’s red-hot forward Kyle Connor then increased the lead to 6-3 on the power play. But the Predators responded when Philip Tomasino scored with the man advantage to pull within 6-4 with 6:19 left to play. With Saros pulled, the Preds stormed the Winnipeg net for the last two minutes.
“More than anything, it’s been timely goals,” Stastny said. “I think last game it was (Pierre-Luc Dubois’) goal when we started (to score more), and today it was (Adam Lowry’s) goal after we started slow.”
Lowry scored early in the first period to tie the score 1-1.
“Every time they got a goal or came close, we came right back and pounced on them and didn’t sit back,” Stastny said. “That’s the biggest. That first game in Anaheim, we probably deserved better and we had more chances. We probably deserved more than one goal. Now, we’re scoring.
“But you can’t expect to get five or six goals a night, so I think we have to tighten up a little bit, 5-on-5 and even PK (penalty kill). But I thought both their goals on the PK were weird bounces. I’d rather give those up than ones where you’re just getting picked apart. I think we’re building on it and we just gotta keep getting better.”
Rookie Kristian Vesalainen, with his first NHL goal, and Dubois also scored for the Jets. Colton Sissons and Nick Cousins had the other Nashville markers.
Saros made 23 saves on 29 shots while Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26-of-30 shots.
Winnipeg improved to 2-2-1 with their second straight win. The Predators fell to 1-4-0.
“I’ve liked our last three games an awful lot,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I think the important things that we’ve done well in our last three is that we’re shooting the puck better with a mindset of being a team that shoots the puck and, because of that, you’re going to get to net front more often. We can get some high tips and some low tips net front and we’ve got players here who can score goals.
“If we play like shooters, we can score goals.”
It was the Predators’ only visit to Winnipeg this season.
“I like the fact that we were able to score four,” said Nashville coach John Hynes. “If you score four, you should be able to win the game. But we had some breakdowns that went in the back of the net. We had three tip-goals where a couple of guys are standing alone right in front of the net front, which shouldn’t happen. So, I think we have to tighten some areas on that, but I think from the offensive perspective, it’s good to be able to get four.
“I think there’s just some things structurally, when we’re in those (5-on-5) areas we can’t have the type of breakdowns that we’ve had, particularly with the type of goaltending that we get. We can’t give them gifts like that.”
The Jets played without both No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler for the second straight match. Both are in NHL COVID-19 protocol.
The Jets will head back to California for a three-game road trip. They play the Ducks in Anaheim for the third time in six games on Tuesday.
The Predators will play the Wild in Minnesota on Sunday, the second of a two-game road trip.
“Usually you take the positives, and there’s obviously going to be some teaching stuff that we need to learn from,” Cousins said. “When you have a game like that where things didn’t go our way tonight and you have a chance to kind of bounce back tomorrow (Sunday) against Minnesota.
“There’s no better way to flush this one than get right back at it tomorrow.”