September 23, 2018

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Hits were happening in Game 1

There’s no slow burn to the Jets-Wild playoff series; this is already a raging inferno between furious Central Division rivals.

Winnipeg fans — 15,000 strong wearing their finest whites — lit the fuse with a raucous, ear-splitting welcome Wednesday evening and then the big bodies quickly took over stoking the flames at Bell MTS Place.

Goals were at a premium, while hits were in abundance.

Final score in the physicality department? Winnipeg 39, Minnesota 31.

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There’s no slow burn to the Jets-Wild playoff series; this is already a raging inferno between furious Central Division rivals.

Winnipeg fans — 15,000 strong wearing their finest whites — lit the fuse with a raucous, ear-splitting welcome Wednesday evening and then the big bodies quickly took over stoking the flames at Bell MTS Place.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault gets checked by Minnesota Wild's Nick Seeler and Jason Zucker during second period of game one between the Jets and Wild.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault gets checked by Minnesota Wild's Nick Seeler and Jason Zucker during second period of game one between the Jets and Wild.

Goals were at a premium, while hits were in abundance.

Final score in the physicality department? Winnipeg 39, Minnesota 31.

By comparison, the Jets’ final regular-season contest with the Chicago Blackhawks featured a combined 15 bodychecks through 60 minutes.

Welcome to the NHL playoffs.

"There were some big hits. It was what we expected," said centre Adam Lowry, who delivered three of his own. "Both teams are going to try and answer the bell and assert their dominance and their style of play. It’s always fun when you’re competing like that.

"There’s a lot of size and a lot of speed on both teams, so there’s going to be some physicality."

Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot led the hit brigade with a whopping 10 belts — more than twice as many as anyone else on the ice. Jets winger Brandon Tanev dished out four hits and was a turbulent force for the hosts all night long.

Raise your hand if you thought, at the start of the 2017-18 NHL campaign, that the former Providence College standout would factor into the Jets’ push to the playoffs and an eventual early series lead. Bunch of fibbers.

"It’s fun feeding off the crowd. The atmosphere was unbelievable in there," said Tanev. "That physicality is a huge part of our game, and getting on the puck fast and creating opportunities in the offensive zone makes things a lot more difficult on them."

Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler, who hails from Plymouth, Minn., just 25 kilometres west of the Twin Cities, said the stage is set for more heavy combat.

"That’s how it looks in the playoffs. The first period is a bit helter-skelter, guys laying the wood a little bit. I actually thought the second period was a little bit more physical, some huge hits. Buff (Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien) with that huge hit. That’s the way it’s going to be," said Wheeler.

He paid tribute to the Lowry trio, with Tanev and Andrew Copp on the wings, which only reinforced the critical role it will play in any post-season success the Jets carve out.

"So physical, so strong on the puck," said Wheeler. "They’re just a tough matchup because they bring a little bit of everything, they always play in the offensive zone. They’ve been really important to our group this year."

Only minutes into the opening period, Chiarot clobbered Daniel Winnik near centre ice, Byfuglien hit star centre Eric Staal along the right wall and Lowry cranked blue-liner Nate Prosser in the corner to the right of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. Wild forward Marcus Foligno levelled Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers on the same shift. 

Early in the second period, Byfuglien caught Joel Eriksson with his head down and sent him somersaulting to the ice, while Wild centre Mikko Koivu pasted Mathieu Perreault with an open-ice hit.

Perreault later left the game and did not return. The club said the veteran winger suffered an upper-body injury, and head coach Paul Maurice offered no update after the game.

Prosser crossed the line in a bid to slow up Tanev, cattle-roping the speedy winger and drawing a holding penalty. That led to Mark Scheifele’s blast from the slot — after a slick pass from Wheeler — that sailed past Devan Dubnyk with just 2:23 left in period two.

That only ramped up the "Duuuub-nyyyyk" chants raining down from the crowd, and they intensified after blue-liner Joe Morrow’s long point shot in the third period got past the veteran netminder to snap a 2-2 tie,.

Morrow said punishing hits deliver an injection of energy to the bench.

"I think so, I think it’s just the emotion of playoff hockey that comes down to finishing your checks, wearing teams down," he said. "We’ve got the size and the grit for that... (we) can play it all night long. It just adds to the emotion to it, and gets the crowd into it. It’s awesome."

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t sure if the intense degree of contact can be sustained. 

"We gave back. I mean, they hit us a lot, and I think we came back and hit them a lot," he said. "We’ll see. It definitely takes a toll on your body. So, if it’s going to continue, the longer that the series goes you might see it die down in third periods sort of thing."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

 

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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History

Updated on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 11:04 PM CDT: adds photos

April 12, 2018 at 7:14 AM: Typo fixed.

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