Honestly, talking about hockey has a weirdly irrelevant feel at the moment. The COVID-19 outbreak just shut down the NBA season indefinitely and there’s a good chance the NHL will follow suit tomorrow. In the likelihood that Winnipeg played its last regular season game tonight, the Jets pulled off a magic trick on the back of Connor Hellebuyck. It’s no secret as to who this team’s MVP is, but Hellebuyck was sensational in keeping the Jets in this one.
The first period was actually pretty good for the Jets. Winnipeg looked hungry for a goal and hemmed in Edmonton’s skaters on numerous occasions. The Jets fired a number of shots on goal and looked for some tricky deflections, but Mike Smith kept things level. Neither team ended up scoring in the opening 20 minutes. The second period wasn’t quite as kind to Winnipeg, with Hellebuyck making a bad play on the puck that led to a goal against. Goalies playing the puck tend to win very bad prizes, and Hellebuyck is a frequent victim of his own ambitions to be a third defenseman.
Thankfully, the Jets seem to have found the magic horseshoe of goalscoring as of late, and Blake Wheeler deflected a pass attempt off of an Oiler skater to tie the game. It’s honestly an even funnier goal when you look at how high in the zone it was tipped, and where it eventually ended up. Sometimes, you just need that streak of good fortune. The joyful luck continued late in the period, with Smith handily granting Cody Eakin an easy turnover behind the net. Eakin found Patrik Laine streaking down the left wing and the Nordic nightmare collected his 28th of the season. Nice!
The good fortunes did take a sour turn right before the conclusion of the middle frame. Connor McDavid caught Kulikov, Pionk, and Scheifele napping. McDavid, as he does, beat the three skaters off of a Zack Kassian feed and deposited the puck neatly behind Hellebuyck. Rats! The Jets didn’t wait too long to answer, though, and opened the third period with a quick Kyle Connor goal. He and Wheeler perfectly played a 2-on-1 to give the Jets the game-winning goal. Winnipeg then decided skating was over-rated and basically got trampled for the next 19 minutes. Hellebuyck’s heroics and a late Connor ENG pulled the Jets through a turbulent end to the game.
With all that said, things are about to get super weird. The season will probably cease tomorrow, and there’s a rumor that teams in existing playoff spots will be in some sort of post-season run later this year. If that’s actually true, then Connor Hellebuyck may have stolen the Jets a post-season appearance. I’m not entirely convinced this will actually hold, but if it does....wow. What a bizarre season, and it’s not technically over yet.
Connor Hellebuyck is majestic.
The American netminder is still my Vezina winner and, arguably, a Hart contender too. He bailed the Jets out on numerous occasions tonight. Winnipeg with a lead is always dicey, but Hellebuyck has somehow found a way to keep the Jets on the right side of the ledger. Incredibly, the dude has a .922% behind the worst blueline in the NHL. What a champ.
Are the Jets in the playoffs...?
I’m honestly trying not to think about it too much, but Winnipeg might have made the post-season picture. It’s taken a Herculean effort after stumbling about prior to the All-Star break. The Jets are still in a less than ideal state, but hey, playoffs are better than the absence of playoffs. I am very curious to see what the NHL does in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
If this is the end of the season, it was a nice closer.
The Jets have scrapped for every point over the last month or so, and they gave us a much better post-ASG break run than anyone expected. For that, I commend them. There are still a boatload of stupid things and bad decisions to parse through, but I definitely have little to argue with in regards to effort. The Jets may not deserve an actual playoff spot by quality of play, but they’ve definitely put in the work to get there.