JETS CONFIDENT THEY’LL REBOUND
But Winnipeg desperately needs secondary scoring or it’s all over, writes Ken Wiebe.
The Winnipeg Jets find themselves in unfamiliar territory and only have themselves to blame for it.
For the first time in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Jets have dropped consecutive games.
How they respond to this latest round of adversity could mean the difference between a quick series and one that could potentially go the distance.
In Wednesday’s game, the Jets gave up an early goal and had a couple of breakdowns after tying the contest in the second period, ultimately falling 4-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights.
With the win, the Golden Knights take a 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 set for Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“We’ve played our best hockey all year bouncing back. We lost a couple of games in a row this year, but we always seem to bounce back,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said before the game. “It seems like when our backs are against the wall, it brings out the best in our group.”
Earlier in the series, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked about his team’s lack of secondary scoring, and he made it clear he wasn’t too concerned — mostly because the Jets were still finding a way to win.
But after dropping two games, it has to be a concern — even if Maurice doesn’t want to acknowledge that publicly.
When you get to the conference final, the importance of secondary scoring is paramount, since the top guns on each side usually find a way to cancel each other out.
The other area the Jets need a boost is in goal, where Connor Hellebuyck is getting outplayed for the first time in these playoffs.
It’s not like Hellebuyck has been poor or has been giving up an abundance of soft goals, because he hasn’t, but the guy at the other end of the rink has been just that much better.
It’s important to remember that Marc-Andre Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and nobody was playing better than him coming into this series.
Since giving up four goals in the series opener, Fleury has been nearly unstoppable and the Golden Knights have found a way to rally around him.
But if the Jets want to even this series on Friday night in Game 4 before it shifts back to Winnipeg, Hellebuyck is going to need to elevate his game.
That’s what Fleury is doing and it’s one of the biggest reasons the expansion Golden Knights are within two wins of the Stanley Cup final.
After talking about the importance of a fast start, the Jets turned the puck over in the neutral zone on the opening shift and Jonathan Marchessault scored 35 seconds into the contest.
Although the Jets found a way to get their feet under them, they weren’t able to generate much offence, as they were limited to only three shots on goal in the first period.
In many ways, the Jets were fortunate to be down only one goal after 20 minutes of play.
The Jets got a redirection from Mark Scheifele to pull even at 5:28 of the second period, but the game was tied for only 12 seconds before James Neal took advantage of a turnover behind the net by Hellebuyck.
Before Hellebuyck was able to move the puck to a waiting forward, he had his pocket picked by Erik Haula, who found Neal alone in front for the tap-in.
Neal set up Alex Tuch in front a few shifts later as the Golden Knights built a two-goal cushion.
The Jets had a chance to pull within one during a power play late in the second period, but Patrik Laine ripped a shot off the post.
Winnipeg made it a one-goal game 18 seconds into the third period as Kyle Connor found Scheifele alone in front to put a little heat on.
The Jets had numerous opportunities to even the score, but Fleury stood tall, finishing with 33 saves.
Marchessault scored into the empty net with 2.7 seconds to go to give him four goals in the series and eight in the playoffs.
“He’s a cocky little guy. He jokes around in the locker-room. He has lots of fun. He has lots to say. But our players love him,” said Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
The Jets were forced to make an unexpected lineup change when forward Nikolaj Ehlers was unable to play because of an undisclosed ailment.
Ehlers, who hasn’t scored in 13 playoff games, was replaced by rookie winger Jack Roslovic.
David Perron of the Golden Knights wasn’t feeling well and was scratched for a second straight game.