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This article was published 18/5/2018 (616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAS VEGAS — It looks like Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice will make three lineup changes for this afternoon's NHL playoff game with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Defencemen Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot and forward Andrew Copp did not take part in the pre-game skate. Dmitry Kulikov who hasn't played since early March, and fellow blue-liner Joe Morrow look like they'll play, along with Joel Armia.
The Jets must win today or their season comes to an end.
Vegas leads the best-of-seven Western Conference Final 3-1.
Steve Mason will also back up starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Michael Hutchinson served as the backup in Game 4 in Vegas on Friday.
This is definitely no desert mirage, folks. As tough as it may be to believe, the expansion Golden Knights are just one win away from the Stanley Cup final — and the Winnipeg Jets are teetering on the brink of elimination.
It was a bit of déjà vu for Winnipeg on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in a 3-2 defeat that is probably going to sting for a long time. Not just in the fact it happened but how it happened.
"You hate to take credit from the other team. They did a good job, they cashed in on their opportunities and made one more play than we did," a clearly frustrated Jets captain Blake Wheeler said following the game. "I liked a lot of that game. We win that game nine times out of 10. Tonight was that one. Had some looks where their goalie made some extraordinary saves. You’ve got to sometimes take your hat off to a good player stealing a game."
Vegas now leads the best-of-seven Western Conference final 3-1 and can close it out with a victory Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place.
"We’ve been through it all this year. We’ve grown as a family, as a team, as a city. We’re going to go home, get some rest and do everything we can to play another game," said forward Nikolaj Ehlers.
Reilly Smith broke a tie with just under seven minutes to play in a third period where the Jets had badly outplayed them and looked poised to pull it out. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on a one-timer attempt in the offensive zone, and Smith pounced on the loose puck for a partial breakaway. He beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck with a high shot from near the top of the circle for the game-winner.
"This is a heartbreaker but we gotta move on. We now have everything on the line," said Hellebuyck. The Vezina Trophy candidate had another tough night at the office and admitted he has to be "a little bit better because we gotta win, that’s the bottom line."
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be a major story with his exemplary play, including a handful more "how-did-he-do-that" type saves Friday night.
"I see a lot of posts on the other end. I don’t think I wanna call it luck, but things have gotta switch and come our way," said Hellebuyck. "Obviously, it’s very frustrating. But it’s nothing that we can’t handle. We’re very prepared for this."
For the Jets, this one followed an eerily similar script to their Game 3 loss in Sin City.
First up was giving up an early goal. William Karlsson sent the home crowd into a frenzy just 2:25 into the game, just like Jonathan Marchessault did with his goal 35 second into Wednesday night’s win.
Next up was mounting a charge and eventually tying the game. Patrik Laine did the trick this time, burying a power-play goal near the midway mark of the second period. Mark Scheifele had done the same in Game 3, giving the Jets new life. Or so it seemed.
Because just as they did Wednesday, Winnipeg quickly gave all the momentum right back. Tomas Nosek scored 41 seconds after Laine tied it, giving Vegas the lead again. James Neal had scored 12 seconds after Scheifele did in Game 3.
In both those cases, a Hellebuyck miscue was involved.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare sent in a relatively harmless shot on Hellebuyck that he would probably glove nine times out of 10. Except this one bobbled away from him, back on to Bellemare’s stick. The fourth-line centre swept around the net and fed Nosek, who buried the feed.
In Game 3, Hellebuyck went to play a routine dump-in but his pass attempt from behind the net hit Erik Haula, who fed a wide-open Neal for the empty-net goal.
"I wouldn’t say it’s deflating. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal was just a product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. Guy misses the shot and hits the post. The stars are aligning for them. But it’s not going to stay that way," said Hellebuyck.
Some bad luck, for sure. But also plenty of self-inflicted wounds.
Take Jets defenceman Tyler Myers, for example. He took a needless interference penalty not even two minutes into Friday’s game, giving Ryan Carpenter a shove after the puck was already chipped in behind him. Whether Carpenter went down easily or not, it’s the kind of play Myers just can’t make in that situation.
"It was a bulls—t weak call," Myers said after the game. "They’re whistle happy at the start and put them away at the end."
On the subsequent power play, Winnipeg lost the faceoff in their zone and Wheeler and Byfuglien got caught far too high trying to create a short-handed chance. Vegas took advantage, as Marchessault threaded a great pass to Karlsson for the goal.
There was some early controversy as well, with Scheifele getting bloodied by a Brayden McNabb high stick that was missed by the referees. Scheifele retaliated in anger, and was sent to the box for slashing. Winnipeg managed to kill the penalty, thanks to a huge save by Hellebuyck on Haula.
The Jets would get three straight power plays in the middle frame, and Laine cashed in on the second one for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
But the positive vibes were extremely shortlived as they gifted it right back in the form of Nosek’s goal.
Myers tied it just 5:34 into the third on a strange play where nobody initially knew the puck went in. Replays confirmed the puck went through Fleury’s legs and stuck in the back of the net padding.
Then came the dagger from Smith. It was just the fourth shot of the period for the Golden Knights, compared to 13 the Jets had.
"It’s just a bounce. That puck’s a funny shape, the ice is chippy, third period. Just takes a crazy hop. They’re opportunistic over there. Their guys find a way to get in alone and get in on those two-on-ones and make you pay," said Wheeler.
Fleury finished with 36 saves, while Hellebuyck stopped 26 pucks.
This marked Winnipeg’s 98th game of the season, including playoffs. And it’s the first time all year they have lost three straight in regulation. Now they face the prospect of having to win three consecutive elimination games, beginning Sunday on home ice.
"I know we can win a game. We’re a good enough team. We’ve battled. We’ve gone into some pretty heavy environments and won a game that we needed to win. So it’s just one game," said coach Paul Maurice.
If they can force a Game 6, it would be next Tuesday back here in Vegas, with a Game 7 set for next Thursday in Winnipeg.
"Nothing is stolen until it’s over. In our minds, this series is far from over. We’re going back home for the next one, and we’ll focus on that," said Myers.
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.
Updated on Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 2:09 PM CDT: adds lineup changes