WINNIPEG — Kyle Connor had a hat trick and one assist and Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves as the Winnipeg Jets clinched a playoff spot with a 5-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Centre Kevin Hayes had a goal and three assists and Andrew Copp also scored for the Jets (45-26-4). The win marked Hellebuyck’s second shutout of the season and 14th of his career.
Pekka Rinne stopped 38 shots for the Predators (42-28-6), who are in second place in the Central Division, four points back of the Jets.
Winnipeg made some lineup changes for the game, slotting Nikolaj Ehlers on the left wing with centre Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and bumping Patrik Laine down to the right side of the second line with Hayes and Connor.
The Jets were starting a four-game homestand and are 5-1-0 in their past six games. They won the season series with the Predators 3-1.
Nashville was beginning a three-game road trip and is 3-2-1 in its past six games.
The teams developed an intense rivalry last season, when the Jets defeated the Predators in Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After a fast-paced, scoreless first period, Winnipeg mounted a 3-0 lead in the second.
Nashville appeared to get the game’s first goal three minutes into the second with a deflected shot by Calle Jarnkrok, but was disallowed after review for Jarnkrok’s high stick.
Connor scored his 30th goal of the season after he took a pass from Hayes, raced down the ice and got around Predators defenceman P.K. Subban in the slot before flipping a backhand shot by Rinne at 4:42. It also marked a career-high 58 points for the sophomore Connor.
Copp made it 2-0 at 14:16 on a second opportunity. He whiffed on an attempt to put a rebound into an open side of the net, but got the puck behind the goal-line and sent a shot that bounced in off a standing Rinne.
Hayes, acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline, stretched the lead after spinning around by the boards and firing a shot that got between Rinne and a post.
Both teams kept up the pace in the third period, with Rinne robbing Blake Wheeler on a shot. Connor notched his second goal with 4:38 remaining in the period and his third with nine seconds left.
Notes: Jets head coach Paul Maurice now has 693 career victories, passing Dick Irvin for the seventh-most wins in NHL history … Winnipeg hosts Dallas on Monday. Nashville, which hasn’t yet secured a playoff spot, visits Minnesota the same day.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press