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Opposing offenses providing nightmares for Hellebuyck, Rinne


As soon as it became obvious the two teams were on a path to meet in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets matchup has been one of the most anticipated ones of the year. Through the first three games it has been pretty much everything you could have possibly hoped for a series featuring the two best teams in the NHL.

Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the goalies playing in it.

Along with having rosters that are swimming in talent -- both offensively and defensively -- the Predators and Jets each had one of the NHL’s top goaltenders this season in Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck, with both finished among the league leaders in wins, save percentage, even-strength save percentage, and shutouts. They were both outstanding all year and finished in the top-three of the Vezina Trophy voting -- as voted by the NHL’s general managers -- along with Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

It has not mattered in this series because just three games in they have both, at times, looked like sieves.
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Entering Game 4 on Thursday night (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) in Winnipeg -- where the Jets go in with a 2-1 series lead -- the two teams have already combined for 25 goals in the series. Keep in mind that the Jets’ first-round series against the Minnesota Wild had that many goals in five games.

The only game where either goalie really excelled was Hellebuyck’s Game 1 performance where he stood on his head and stopped 47 of the 48 shots he faced to help the Jets steal home-ice advantage away from the Predators. In that same game Rinne was burned for three goals on 16 shots before getting lifted in favor of backup Jusse Saros.

Since then the series has been a goal-scorers dream, and while both goalies have had their struggles at times it’s really not even entirely all their fault. It is just the result of the way the two teams play and the way their styles match up with one another.

The two teams combined for nine goals in the Predators’ 5-4 overtime win in Game 2, and then Game 3 on Tuesday was a throwback to 1980s firewagon hockey when the Jets erased an early 3-0 deficit to storm back for a 7-4 win. Granted, the final two Jets goals were of the empty-net variety, but even without them it still would have been a second consecutive game game with at least nine goals scored on the two goalies.

It is not just the fact they are getting beat and giving up goals that is making the series a struggle for them: They’re both facing a barrage of shots every single night with each team topping the 40-shot mark twice already in the three games. It is continuing a trend from their five-game regular season series where every game was not only complete madness in terms of the style of play -- fast, physical, highly competitive -- but also extremely high scoring with a breakneck pace.

Just consider the numbers.
[Related: Hellebuyck, Rinne, Vasilevskiy are Vezina Trophy finalists]

During their five regular season meetings the Jets and Predators averaged 8.4 goals per game and more than 74 combined shots on goal.

Those averages remain the same when you add in the first three playoff games.

In the Jets’ other 82 games this season (77 regular season, five playoffs) against teams that were not the Predators, their games averaged just a little more than six total goals per game and 64 total shots on goal per game. The Predators’ numbers against non-Jets opponents were nearly identical.

That’s a pretty sharp increase in goals, shots, pace of play, and, well, pretty much everything. It has been a pleasure to watch, and given how the first eight matchups have gone (both regular season and this series) it does not seem like it is going to stop anytime soon. That makes it a dream series for fans -- and players -- that love offense, a fast pace, and some run-and-gun hockey. For goalies, including the two that have to try and stop these two powerhouse offenses, it is going to continue to be a nightmare.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.