WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Roman Josi had this one circled on his calendar.
Hard to imagine the Predators defenseman could have played much better.
Josi had five assists, Craig Smith scored twice and Ryan Hartman redirected in the winning goal during his Nashville debut, sending the streaking Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in their Central Division showdown Tuesday night.
“We knew before the game it’s a huge game,” Josi said. “We marked it as probably the most important game up to this point in the season.”
Hartman, acquired in a trade with Chicago at Monday’s deadline, gave the defending Western Conference champions their first lead with a minute left when he tapped in a feed from Josi.
“I didn’t really have to do much for it, you know,” Hartman said of his ninth goal this season. “(Josi) put that right on my tape.”
Kyle Turris, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Johansen also scored as Nashville won its fifth straight, padding its division lead to four points over the Jets. Josi extended his point streak to five games (one goal, 11 assists).
“We know how well they’re playing this year and how good of a team they are,” Josi said. “It was a great test for us.”
Josi praised Hartman for his all-around effort.
“I thought even before he scored that goal he was really good,” Josi said. “He was hard on the forecheck. He made a lot of good plays, had a lot of shots. I thought he played great and obviously he topped it off with the game-winner.”
Mark Scheifele scored twice and new Winnipeg forward Paul Stastny had a goal and an assist. Matt Hendricks and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored.
Stastny was obtained Monday in a trade with St. Louis.
“It was good to get it out of the way,” he said after scoring his 13th goal this season and first with his new club. “This afternoon I didn’t sleep a wink. I was just more anxious, nerves and excitement.”
Ehlers added one assist and Patrik Laine had two.
Pekka Rinne stopped 34 shots for the Predators, who opened a four-game road trip. Rinne improved to 14-1-1 in his last 16 starts.
Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves for Winnipeg.
“It was last shot wins,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “I don’t think they got any more quality offense in the third.”
After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for seven goals in the second, with Winnipeg taking a 4-3 lead into the third.
The second period featured five goals in just under five minutes.
Hendricks started it off at 2:45 when his shot from the slot went past Rinne. Smith got the equalizer six minutes later, but then Scheifele triggered the flurry of goals at both ends of the ice.
The top-line center scored his 20th of the season off a slick pass from Jack Roslovic at 12:41. Smith got his second when Stastny sent him a pass from the side of the net out front less than two minutes later for a 3-1 lead.
Blake Wheeler assisted on the second goal, extending his point streak to nine games with four goals and 11 assists during that stretch.
Turris replied at 15:07 to cut the lead 3-2, and Ekholm scored with one second left on a power play after the Jets had unsuccessfully challenged Turris’ goal for offside. Winnipeg was dinged with a delay-of-game penalty for the failed challenge.
Ehlers finished the period’s scoring with his 25th of the season at 17:39.
Stastny scored 10 minutes into the third for a 5-3 lead, but Smith scored 55 seconds later and Johansen tied it for Nashville at 13:56.
“The positivity in this room, even though you’re down a goal, down two goals, the guys know there’s enough tools in here to score plenty of goals and win at any given time,” Hartman said.
NOTES: Viktor Arvidsson had two assists for the Predators. … Laine got assists on the goals by Stastny and Ehlers, pushing his point streak to six games. … Stastny won 14 of 19 faceoffs. “He’s a cagey guy,” Scheifele said. “He knows the areas to go to to create offense, and in the (defensive) zone the areas to be.” … Jets defenseman Joe Morrow, just acquired from Montreal, was on the ice after veteran Toby Enstrom was scratched.
Predators: Play in Edmonton on Thursday.
Jets: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
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