Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/4/2018 (1148 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators have combined for 55 goals against each other this season, including 14 through the first two games of their playoff series.
But none have been debated or dissected quite like Kevin Fiala’s double-overtime winner Sunday night.
And for good reason. It was a massive tally to get the Predators right back in the series after dropping Game 1 on home ice. And it certainly stung for the Jets, who were staring a golden opportunity in the face. After all, teams that win the first two of a best-of-seven go on to win 88 per cent of those series.
So with that in mind, let’s go back to Bridgestone Arena to analyze what went wrong, with the help of countless reviews of the video replays in super slow-motion.
The fans in Nashville have this thing where they ridicule the opposing goalie every time he’s scored on by chanting his name and then adding "You suck. It’s all your fault."
Well, we can safely conclude Fiala’s highlight-reel snipe was most certainly not Connor Hellebuyck’s fault. In fact, the Vezina Trophy candidate came very close to making what would have been a miraculous game-saving grab.
So who is to blame?
Well, for starters, veteran Matt Hendricks had a tough end to his shift. A tough night, actually. He took a goalie interference penalty in the first period, and his cross-checking penalty in the second negated an Andrew Copp goal.
On this critical play, he’s right in the middle of the action when the puck gets turned over in Nashville territory but is still somewhat up for grabs.
At this point, Hendricks decides to leave the offensive zone and go for a change. Not a critical error, sure, but possession is pivotal in sudden-death and the Jets had the puck, then lost it and never got it back. Hendricks removing himself from the battle right there didn't help matters.
But it may actually be his line change that was even more costly. Hendricks, tired after a shift and not the fastest skater to begin with, takes considerable time to get to the bench. Rookie Kyle Connor is waiting to jump on but is also slow to react, which turns out to be important given what’s happening across the ice.
Which brings us to Toby Enstrom, who many may want to tag as the scapegoat here. We’re not so sure about that.
Yes, Enstrom makes what might be considered a risky pinch in an attempt to get to a loose puck along the wall in the offensive zone. But it’s a play he’s almost expected to make and one that likely would have been fine if not for the mistakes that followed.
As a result, partner Dustin Byfuglien, no stranger to wandering himself but in fine position here, is left all by himself.
With Enstrom up in the play and stationary on the boards, he gets bunched up with Copp and rookie winger Jack Roslovic. Which is where the real trouble begins.
Copp is over there giving some additional support. He accidentally clips Kyle Turris in an attempt to get the bouncing puck, but gets caught looking as Turris knocks the puck a few feet ahead while falling.
Enter Roslovic, who pinches as well, trying to get the pesky puck rather than make the safe play and retreat to cover for Enstrom.
Turris manages to quickly get up and poke it past Roslovic and onto the stick of teammate Craig Smith. Roslovic then rubs Turris out along the boards, further taking himself out of the play.
You now have three Jets all within arm’s reach of each other in Enstrom, Copp and Roslovic. Byfuglien is the only man back; Hendricks is still making his way to the bench on the far side.
That’s less than ideal.
Compounding all of this is the fact Nashville executes perfectly; Smith and Fiala are off to the races with a two-on-one.
Roslovic is trapped up the ice. Copp is flat-footed, as well. Connor is finally hopping over the boards. And Enstrom, try as he might, can’t get back in time. Although his stick almost breaks up the play.
Byfuglien doesn’t really commit to either Smith or Fiala, which is ideally what you want your defenceman to do there. Force the Predators into making a quick decision, which helps your goalie focus on what’s likely coming.
Instead, No. 33 stays in the middle and then hits the deck trying to intercept Smith’s pass, which is a beauty. Right onto the tape of Fiala, who cuts back across Hellebuyck in fantastic move to open him up. His shot just sneaks by the outstretched glove.
Game over. Series tied.
You can’t blame Hellebuyck. But Byfuglien needs to play that better. Roslovic and Copp have to make smarter reads with Enstrom pinching. Hendricks has to be quicker on that line change. And Connor has to be faster off the bench, as he might have been able to get into position to help Byfuglien break things up.
"I’m not picking on those five guys. I’ve got no problem in them holding the line in that situation. Just got to win it," Paul Maurice told reporters following his team's practice back in Winnipeg Monday.
Speaking of Maurice... that brings us to the final point.
Where does the head coach fit in all of this? After all, should that Copp-Hendricks-Roslovic fourth line have even been out there to begin with?
That trio saw plenty of ice in the extra frames. Which was surprising; as the road team the Jets don’t get last change and are susceptible to shrewd line-matching by Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette.
And that’s exactly what happened. Laviolette wisely got his talented second line out and they took full advantage.
Following the game, Maurice was asked about the fact he hadn’t shortened his bench in overtime.
"At the end we ran a number of lines harder than you normally would in the last 10 minutes of the third, so by the time we got in the second overtime, we were rolling everybody," he explained.
Indeed, Maurice did lean heavily on his top three lines during the third period with the Jets chasing the game looking for the equalizer, which they got in the form of a Mark Scheifele goal with 1:05 to play and Hellebuyck on the bench.
But overtime was more of an "all hands on deck" approach.
There's clearly plenty of blame to go around. And in the playoffs everything becomes magnified.
Will this prove to be a turning point in a series where the league’s two best regular-season teams, closely matched on seemingly every level, are battling for the right to make the Western Conference final?
Time will tell.
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.