THE Winnipeg Jets are singing the first-goal blues this morning.
Significant pressure out of the gate by the Jets on Monday night failed to produce results, as early playoff MVP candidate Marc-Andre Fleury shut the door between the Vegas pipes.
His Golden Knights teammates showed their immense gratitude to the fabulous netminder with two late goals in the first period, and, suddenly, the Jets were the pursuers.
It’s not a position in which they’ve thrived during the Stanley Cup playoffs — and Game 2 of the Western Conference final was no exception.
The Jets fell behind 2-0 after the opening frame, pushed back mightily but couldn’t solve Fleury. The visitors returned to Sin City with a 3-1 victory and the best-of-seven Western Conference final all square at 1-1.
Ripping the game opener is a hallmark of both clubs’ success during 2018 post-season play. Winnipeg is 8-1-0 when scoring first, while Vegas is equally lethal when striking the first blow, now 7-1-0.
"We were chasing the game again. Down two goals just made it tough," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. "It makes it tough to come back. One goal is different than two goals is different than three goals and so on and so forth. If you get down a goal it’s not the end of the world, there’s lots of hockey to play.
"When you start letting it snowball, that’s when it gets more challenging."
Conversely, the Jets are 1-4 when surrendering the opening goal in the playoffs, 1-4 when down after the first period and 0-5 when behind after 40 minutes.
Winnipeg’s only comeback victory was generated in Game 3 of the second round when the squad erased a 3-0 deficit after the first period to post an emotional 7-4 triumph at home over the Nashville Predators.
Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault, who scored a pair of goals, said Tomas Tatar’s game-opener, with just over six minutes left in the first period, altered the atmosphere at Bell MTS Place.
"The last game in the stands (Saturday) it felt way louder than tonight," he said. "It’s good. Obviously, the fans are the seventh man on the ice. I think we played great and took control the rest of the game."
Jets rookie winger Kyle Connor somehow squeezed a shot between Fleury and the post at 7:17 of the final period, sending a shockwave through the arena that a rally might be coming. But the buzz in the air was quickly neutralized when Marchessault fired his second goal of the contest on a backhand just 88 seconds later.
Centre Paul Stastny said even a one-goal deficit is a difficult hole to emerge from in the heat of spring hockey.
"I just think when good teams have a lead they keep their foot on the gas, they want the next goal," he said. "It’s the conference final so you’re going to have two of the best teams playing each other and both teams are aggressive, both teams don’t sit back when they have the lead."
Marchessault notched his first goal on a breakaway and finished a pass from Reilly Smith on a 2-on-1 break.
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).