NASHVILLE — Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 5-1 on Thursday night to stay alone atop the Central Division in a midseason showdown between rivals.
The Jets leave Nashville four points ahead of the Predators with two games in hand, with the final two games between the teams this season at Winnipeg in March. The Jets edged Nashville in seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year.
Brendan Lemieux had two goals for the Jets, who won their fourth straight game. Mason Appleton, Bryan Little and Brandon Tanev also scored. Sami Niku and Joe Morrow each added two assists.
Viktor Arvidsson scored his fourth goal in two games for Nashville, which has lost three of four.
The Predators had won five of the last six against the Jets on home ice, not counting that playoff series in which Winnipeg took three of four in Nashville to reach the Western Conference final. Nashville shut out Winnipeg 3-0 on Oct. 11.
Nashville started strong, swarming Hellebuyck in the opening minutes. Yet Winnipeg took a 1-0 lead when Lemieux finished off a wraparound by squeezing the puck between the post and Pekka Rinne’s left skate midway through the first period for his fourth this season. The Jets thought they had a 2-0 lead on a wrister by Blake Wheeler late in the period, but Nashville won its challenge that Winnipeg was offside.
Nashville started the second with on a man advantage only to see Winnipeg quickly get the goal back. Rinne turned away a backhand from Niku on a breakaway, then 30 seconds later Appleton went to the net and redirected the puck into an open net for a 2-0 lead at 3:36.
Arvidsson, who had his second career hat trick in a 7-2 win over Washington on Tuesday night, nearly got Nashville on the board with a breakaway. But Hellebuyck made a save that caught the person in charge of the goal horn off guard, already trying to start the celebration. Arvidsson got his sixth goal in five games at 11:57 of the period with a wrister off a rebound to pull Nashville to 2-1.
Little gave Winnipeg a 3-1 lead with 45.6 seconds left in the period, swatting the puck past Rinne off the rebound of Patrik Laine’s shot.
Tanev made it 4-1 when he redirected a shot by Niku at 1:54 of the third. Lemieux got his second at 15:38.
NOTES: The Jets had lost back-to-back road games but have not lost three straight on the road in regulation since December 2016. … Little extended his point streak to seven games. He has five goals and four assists in that span. … The Predators are 6-15-3 when allowing the first goal. … Arvidsson has 25 points (18 goals, seven assists) in 25 games played this season. His goal tied him with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin , averaging .72 goals per game for best in the NHL.
Jets: Visit the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
Predators: Host the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press