Jets dominate Blues, jump back into series

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ST. LOUIS — It would have been so easy to get deflated. The Winnipeg Jets, after all, were down 2-0 in the series after two tough, one-goal losses on home ice. And here they were in enemy territory, chasing the game Sunday after St. Louis struck first late in the opening period.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/04/2019 (1326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. LOUIS — It would have been so easy to get deflated. The Winnipeg Jets, after all, were down 2-0 in the series after two tough, one-goal losses on home ice. And here they were in enemy territory, chasing the game Sunday after St. Louis struck first late in the opening period.

The Jets had dominated the opening 20 minutes, among their finest of the season, yet had nothing to show for it. Maybe rookie Jordan Binnington, who made several jaw-dropping saves, really was a miracle worker. Perhaps it just truly wasn’t meant to be.

But persistence finally paid off as the Jets picked themselves up off the mat and struck for three quick goals in the middle frame. The end result was an impressive and much-needed 6-3 victory at Enterprise Center that gets them right back in the best-of-seven playoff series that was starting to look like a potential sweep in the making.

Patrik Laine scores his third goal of the playoffs against the Blues netminder Jordan Binnington in the second-period. The tally gave the Jets a 2-1 lead and they never looked back. JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“It was good to get rewarded. Obviously 3-0’s a bad hole to get into. We stayed with the game plan, stayed with what we’ve done the whole series so far, and just got a little bit more rewarded,” said captain Blake Wheeler.

Game 4 is set for Tuesday in St. Louis before it shifts back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Thursday.

‘We’re building every shift, every game throughout the series. We’re getting closer to our game and it’s pretty dangerous’– Jets forward Kyle Connor

Hockey is a funny game. The Jets had no shortage of scoring chances in the opening period, with Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both on the wrong end of some Binnington larceny. But David Perron got the only goal, a power play tally with just 48 seconds left as his shot deflected off Dustin Byfuglien’s skate to beat Connor Hellebuyck.

Go figure that an absolutely harmless looking shot by Kevin Hayes from the Blues blue-line somehow found the back of the net early in the middle frame. Replays showed the floater hit Alex Pietrangelo before going in 4:57 into the period. 

“Typically in this game, the puck doesn’t lie,” said Wheeler. “You do the right things and do them over and over and over again, and even if you’re snakebit or bounces aren’t going your way, you keep that faith and keep on it — the thing’s shaped weird. It’s going to bounce your way once in a while.

A big skirmish in front of the Blues net a couple minutes later saw Byfuglien and Brayden Schenn feeding each other fists, and their matching roughing minors became a turning point.

It’s no secret the Jets love four-on-four action, as they took full advantage of the extra ice. Patrik Laine put the Jets ahead after a dominant shift from him, Bryan Little, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba. St. Louis couldn’t even touch the puck, the Jets playing keep-away for nearly a minute until the goal at 7:47, in which Laine got all alone behind the Blues defence to take a pass from Trouba.

St. Louis Blues' Robert Thomas handles the puck as Winnipeg Jets' Tyler Myers (57) defends during the second period. JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Laine now has goals in all three games after finishing the regular-season with just one tally in his final 19 contests.

“He’s a viable powerful NHL player. On the four-on-four he goes in, finishes a check, comes out, reloads high, goes back down and gets lost. That’s just all good smart hockey. He’s not floating out there waiting for somebody to get him the puck,” said coach Paul Maurice.

For the third straight game, the Jets had a lead. But their inability to pull away in the first two proved costly. And so Kyle Connor’s power-play goal at 8:58 was huge, giving the Jets their first two-goal lead of the series.

Byfuglien and Schenn were still in the box, so this was a four-on-three man advantage in which Maurice opted to use four forwards. It worked.

“We’re building every shift, every game throughout the series. We’re getting closer to our game and it’s pretty dangerous,” said Connor. “The message was to stick with it. We liked our first period and if we keep playing that way, we’ll get rewarded and we did.”

Things got a bit tight just 1:51 into the third period as Vladimir Tarasenko, somewhat invisible in the first two games of the series, finally announced his arrival with a power-play goal. Defenceman Vince Dunn made two terrific plays to knock down Winnipeg clearing attempts at the blue-line, then set up the goal.

Patrik Maroon nearly tied it a few minutes later after a Hellebuyck puck-handling adventure, but the reunited TLC line of Brandon Tanev, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp came through in the clutch.

Copp’s pass to Tanev went in off the winger’s skate and past Binnington, restoring the two-goal lead at 4:25. 

“I’ve answered questions about our ability to close games out and hold leads. The playoffs are an opportunity for everybody to start over and then build. That was an important step for us today because we took a lead into the third period, something that we have done over the year and were brilliant at last year, shutting it down and closing it out. So it’s a good confidence booster,” said Maurice.

Byfuglien made it 5-2 when he scored from behind the goal-line, banking a shot in off Binnington’s helmet. He has been both a physical and offensive force this series, now with a goal and four assists through three games.

And Byfuglien’s goal might be the first real sign of some rookie nerves showing for the seemingly calm, cool and collected Binnington. 

Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) is congratulated by teammate Andrew Copp after scoring during the third period in Game 3 Sunday. JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Hopefully we can keep going and getting pucks by him. We have to focus on the little things and focus on our zone and the offence will come,” said Byfuglien.

“They’re a great team over there. The last few games we, as a group, didn’t think we were far off. It was just minor little things. We knew if we just stuck to our game plan eventually it would start going our way. We did alright tonight, we can take some positives out of it. We still got a lot of hockey left.”

Alex Steen scored at 13:42 during a goal-mouth scramble. But Winnipeg’s top line responded as you’d hope they would, putting in a terrific, puck-possessing shift that ended with Connor’s second goal of the night. Wheeler and Mark Scheifele made great plays down low to set it up.

Winnipeg scored three goals on their first three shots in the final frame. The Binnington of the second and third period Sunday looked completely different than the Binnington we saw in the first seven periods of the series. Was it just a bad 40 minutes for him, or a sign the Jets have found a way to get to him? 

“A win is always a win. I think there’s still lots of room to improve and especially with the lead I still think we can play better defence but overall only wins count and that was a great win for us,” said Laine.

“We know that we have a good team and we just have to find some ways to win these games. And (Sunday) was the night when we got the first win and it was huge for us and good for the series.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor is congratulated by Mark Scheifele after scoring during the third period. JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Sunday, April 14, 2019 10:40 PM CDT: Writethrough, adds quotes, details.

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