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This article was published 4/10/2018 (1328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ST. LOUIS — No, members of the Winnipeg Jets didn’t stand over the logo at centre ice, rip off their jerseys and begin flexing Thursday night.
But a team many believe will be one of the NHL’s heavyweights this season showed they didn’t lose any muscle over the summer as they skated away with an impressive 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in their season opener.
Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck looked to be on the top of his game right out of the gate, stopping 41 of 42 shots he faced, including several that had jaws dropping from his own teammates.
"He was unreal. It was just ridiculous just watching from the bench, those saves he made. He was really good. I think he was easily the best player on the ice," said forward Patrik Laine, who was no slouch himself
Hellebuyck held down the fort while the Jets took a little while to get warmed up, clinging to a 1-0 lead entering the final frame. But once they did, Winnipeg looked every bit like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Three goals in a span of 1:44 in the third period — and four in a 5:14 span — broke a close game wide open. It was the kind of killer instinct good teams often possess in spades.
"The natural instinct is to sag a little bit after you’re a little bit deflated," said captain Blake Wheeler, who had a goal and an assist.
"We got some opportunities and capitalized on it. That was real important for our hockey team."
It was just the kind of start Winnipeg was looking for, grinding out an impressive road win over a tough Central Division foe. And it was a much more memorable debut than last season, when Winnipeg was trounced 7-2 on home ice by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Laine wasted no time getting his team on the board. With the Jets on their first power play of their season, he ripped a wrist shot that deflected off the stick of defenceman Colton Parayko and beat St. Louis goalie Jake Allen just 4:01 into the game.
"Like I said before, I’m not a pre-season guy. When the season starts I’ll start scoring," said Laine, who had four quiet, scoreless exhibition games under his belt. He finished second in the NHL in goals last season with 44 and had several other good looks Thursday to add a few more.
"It’s good for (Laine). He hadn’t scored in exhibition, so he was fairly close to quitting hockey. He takes it very personally when he doesn’t score," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
The turning point of the game came early in the third with the Jets up 1-0 but short-handed. Brandon Tanev lost his stick and was in agony after blocking a shot, and Hellebuyck made a spectacular save off Alex Steen on what would have been the equalizer.
"That was kind of a crazy situation, actually," said Hellebuyck.
Seconds later, the puck popped loose and Adam Lowry was able to win a race, going down on a breakaway and beating Allen between the legs.
"You know when you haven’t scored for a while you get a lot of energy when you get some chances," Lowry said of his burst of speed.
Wheeler, who called Lowry’s goal a "backbreaker," scored just over a minute later on a two-on-one rush following a great feed from linemate Kyle Connor, who lit the lamp himself 40 seconds later when he tipped home a Jacob Trouba point shot.
Linemate Mark Scheifele finished the night with two assists,giving the Jets’ top line a six-point night.
Tanev capped off the Jets’ scoring midway through the period, with rookie Kristian Vesalainen getting his first career point with an assist.
"I liked his game. Those young guys, you worry about them along the walls, about what they’ll do with the puck. I was very, very pleased with his game," said Maurice, speaking about Vesalainen. "He didn’t get the minutes, I’d like to get them all more. But that’s the role and the job now."
St. Louis broke the shutout with just under six minutes left to play as Vince Dunn’s shot beat Hellebuyck at the end of a Blues power play.
"You know, I was having some fun out there, I was enjoying everything. The guys make it so easy on me. I was just able to square up and do my job," said Hellebuyck.
"That’s exactly what we want. We want to be patient and wait for opportunities. When we get our chances we capitalize. And that’s what we’re good at."
Winnipeg will practice Friday in Dallas and then wrap up the quick two-game road trip to start the season on Saturday night against the Stars.
"There were some things about the game that I really liked, a bunch of stuff that we’re really going to need to get better at, but it’s exactly what we expected this year to be like," said Maurice.
"We’ve got a ways to go defensively and we can get better in those areas and some of our shot selection and some of our drive can improve to the net. Also, some pretty good events."
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.