The playoffs have been a bitter disappointment for the Jets. Everyone has 1,000 theories on what’s gone wrong, but it’s fairly safe to say Winnipeg just hasn’t been good enough. Whether it’s the even-strength offense drying up, the goaltending suddenly struggling, or defensive miscues being punished harshly, it feels like death by a million cuts. The first 2 home games against the Blues saw Winnipeg lose home ice advantage in painful fashion. With an opportunity to steal a game back on the road, could the Jets rally to pull off a victory and snub the looming sweep?
The First Period
The Jets dominated this period from the puck drop. If Winnipeg had any lingering anxieties after the frustration at home, they didn’t show. This version of the team, the one with free-flowing offense, dominant offensive zone pressure, and withering passing sequences to split defenders apart has been missing for so long. We saw flashes of it last game, but Hellebuyck’s untimely struggles nullified the gains in play. Winnipeg put Binnington to work, and the rookie goalie had some startlingly good saves, including a jaw-dropper on Mathieu Perreault that was labeled for the back of the net. The cross-crease feed from Hayes (on 4th line duty) was picture-perfect, and Perreault had the timing dead to rights. Binnington’s reflexes were just that much better.
Sometimes your best isn’t good enough, and Winnipeg got bit on a late-period penalty. The Blues got a typical offensive zone entry, with Perron spearheading the effort. He went one-on-one against Byfuglien and flicked a wrister from distance that shouldn’t have been much trouble. The puck may have slightly deflected off of Byfuglien’s leg and cleanly beat Hellebuyck. Yikes. It feels like every time one part of the Jets gets fixed, another falls apart at the most inopportune time. At least the Jets played a really good period, which we haven’t been able to say for much of the season.
The Second Period
Winnipeg continued to run the tables against St. Louis, looking like a team angry from 3 months of disappointment. Binnington continued to be excellent, making flurries of saves against guys like Byfuglien and Wheeler. The Hayes line, which had a great first period, continued to buzz around the net. That line was finally rewarded, with Hayes throwing a puck on net from distance that appeared to catch Binnington off-guard. The Jets weren’t done, and continued to assault the Blues net with everything they had.
Trouba, already enjoying some strong offensive zone work, made a nice pass to Laine who whipped it past Binnington from in close. The shot was short, expedient, and ruthlessly effective. The Blues appeared to unravel, taking a bad tripping penalty right after. Winnipeg opted to put 4 forwards out on the power play and Kyle Connor took the right side, Wheeler’s usual territory. He held the puck patiently and skated closer, looking off the defense with body language screaming “PASS”. Connor instead blistered a wrister right through Binnington, and the game was suddenly 3-1 in favor of Winnipeg. Wowzers.
The Blues started to apply a bit of pressure in the waning minutes of the period, including a few power plays that probably proved a bit unsettling to Maurice. The good news is, no harm, no foul. The Jets managed to stave off the St. Louis special teams unit, even generating some odd-man rushes in the other direction. Good. This is what I want to see.
The Third Period
The final 20 minutes were probably the ones we most dreaded. Winnipeg has, generally speaking, had difficulty holding a lead late in games. Whether it’s due to passive defensive structure or insane score effects, the Jets have blown some relatively straightforward victories in the dying moments. That old familiar fear crept up again with the Blues getting an early power play. Vladimir Tarasenko made the Jets pay rather quickly, ripping a shot off the right wing with ease. Unlike the first goal, that’s one Hellebuyck probably had a tough chance staving off.
Unlike previous games, Winnipeg showed an unusual resiliency tonight. The TLC line wasn’t particularly good, but Copp set-up Tanev with an easy net-side tap-in just a few minutes later, restoring Winnipeg’s 2-goal advantage. The Jets weren’t quite satisfied with that lead, and padded it on a glorious Byfuglien sharp-angle shot from the goal-line. Buff had a strong offensive outing, one in a growing pile as of late, and collected a well-earned tally for his record. Winnipeg did concede late in the period, with Steen collecting a goal on some net-front chaos that saw Hellebuyck a bit hung out to dry. Connor rectified it scarcely a minute later, adding a second goal on his much improved outing.
I’ve been pretty unhappy with the Jets as of late, but tonight was an excellent performance. They needed a tremendous bounceback effort to prolong this series, and they delivered an absolute whalloping against a good Blues roster. If they can find a way to take the next game on the road, all bets are off. The playoff picture is increasingly chaotic, with some of the top Cup contenders on the verge of being swept. Things are about to get interesting, and it’d be so much more fun if the Jets were still a part of the madness.
- Winnipeg looked like the team that’s been missing for the better part of an entire season. A huge commendation is deserved for tonight’s effort. Keep it up.
- Kevin Hayes had a much better outing tonight, evidently responding well to his fourth line demotion.
- Guys, I think Laine may be fixed. 3 goals in 3 games, nice.
- The playoff losing streak is officially over!
- The TLC line was much less dominant than usual, but this is a small complaint.
- There were some defensive issues here and there, but generally speaking, smaller in the grand scheme.