With P.K. Subban off for high sticking Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers the Jets power play worked the puck around until they found the Jets captain alone on the left side of Rinne about 25 feet out.
Wheeler wired a wrister just inside the post to give the Jets the win and series lead in what was an epic playoff battle between the two best clubs during the regular season.
The Jets captain finished with two goals and an assist.
Dustin Byfuglien also scored twice and added an assist while Paul Stastny scored once and added two assists. Mark Scheifele added a pair of assists for the Jets.
Nashville dominated the opening period scoring three times before Winnipeg stormed back in the second frame with four tallies of their own, including three goals in 2:51 before the Predators tied it up in the third period.
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26 shots for Winnipeg.
Mike Fisher, P.K Subban, Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg scored for the Predators.
Pekka Rinne turned aside 38 shots for Nashville.
Mike Fisher scored just under five minutes into the opening frame, poking a loose puck past Connor Hellebuyck to give Nashville a 1-0 lead. With Blake Wheeler off for tripping P.K Subban fired a slap shot that Hellebuyck got a piece of but the disc trickled across the line.
The goal was his 2nd of the playoffs.
Austin Watson made it 3-0 at 17:35 when he picked the far corner on Hellebuyck as he shot through a screen on his off wing.
The goal was his 5th of the post-season.
Paul Stastny got the Jets on the board 2:38 into the second period when he deflected a Jacob Trouba shot past Pekka Rinne to make it 3-1.
The play was reviewed and a goal awarded when replay showed the disc careened off the center part of the net and came out before anyone was aware.
The goal was his 3rd of the playoffs.
With the teams playing 4-on-4 Dustin Byfuglien pulled Winnipeg to within a goal at 5:11 as he blew a slapshot past Rinne, beating him blocker side just inside the right post to make it 3-2.
Jacob Trouba tied the contest just 18 seconds later when he converted a Blake Wheeler feed past Rinne, pausing a moment before beating him with a high shot to make it 3-3.
Dustin Byfuglien gave the Jets the lead with 45 seconds left in the second period when Patrik Laine spotted him alone by the far faceoff dot and hit him with a crisp cross ice pass which he promptly one timed past Rinne.
The goal was his 3rd of the playoffs.
Byfuglien was a physical presence in game 3, throwing heavy body checks in addition to scoring twice and adding an assist after spotting Nashville a 3 goal lead.
Filip Forsberg tied it up 7:40 into the third period on the power play.
Forsberg took a Ryan Johansen pass before moving to the high slot and unleashed a wrister that beat Hellebuyck high blocker side to make it 4-4.
Blake Wheeler fired the game winner with 4:59 remaining in regulation to make it 5-4.
Wheeler and Brandon Tanev added an empty netters to seal the win for the Jets.
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne attributed the loss to the time of year.
"Yeah obviously it’s difficult but at the same time that’s playoff hockey. They have a really good team and we got in trouble in the second period and they executed. Obviously that 4-on-4 didn’t go as planned and they were able to score a couple there. But it was another emotional game. Highs and lows. But I think that’s the way it’s going to be against these two teams. But obviously we got to just look at this game and find the positives and move on. Obviously it’s easier said than done. And get ready for Game 4.”
Ryan Ellis was more succint with his take on game 3.
“We stopped playing. We didn't play hard and they really turned it up. So that's exactly what's going to happen when one team quits playing and the other one turns it up. For us, I think we just need to learn from our mistakes and really it's just about playing the game for the full 60 (minutes).”
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said his club played a solid first period.
“Like I said, the first period we’re pretty happy with. The third period, maybe 12 minutes in, we’re pretty happy with. We had a bad second period, similar to the third period we had back at Bridgestone (in Game 2). I don’t know if it was necessarily systematically or that we didn’t attack the ice and come out with the mindset of being read to play. Two of the goals were 4-on-4, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily 5-on-5 but that being said, I don’t like the way we played the second period. We didn’t attack the game enough inside that period. We we’ll go back and look at it.”
Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice thought his mobile defence took the necessary ice to start a comeback in the second period.
“It’s not necessarily a specific adjustment but there’s a truth to our skating. Our back end gets up the ice with the play and if they had an opportunity to take ice, they took the ice. That’s standard for our game and there was probably a little more room because they had a 3-0 lead so we were able to get up and activate in. I really think that was an important change for us."
Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba said the Jets comeback amounted to settling down and playing the way they were capable of.
"I don’t know. We weren’t nervous in the second," said Trouba.
“Paul just came in here and told us, ‘Go play hockey. Don’t worry about everything around (town) with what’s going on with the playoffs, and coming home. Play loose, have fun.’ That’s what we did.”
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