After Game Three, the St. Louis Blues have a 2-1 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets.
As the old adage goes, you’re never in trouble until you lose a game at home.
For the Winnipeg Jets, that danger has become a shocking reality very quickly in this series. The Jets would look to avoid a 3-0 series deficit on Sunday night in St. Louis. The Jets made a few changes for Game 3. Par Lindholm was a healthy scratch as Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup. Perreault would slot in on the fourth line with Kevin Hayes and Jack Roslovic. After a poor performance in games one and two, Hayes needed to be better in Game 3. Hayes owned up to his poor play prior to Game 3, and understood that if the Jets were going to win moving forward, he needed to be at his best.
The Jets were dominant in spurts during games 1 and 2. A huge need for Winnipeg in Game 3 was that they needed to grab the game from the start, and control the pace of play every shift.
The Jets did just that.
In the opening minutes, Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington was forced to make a massive save on Bryan Little in the slot after a beautiful feed from Nikolaj Ehlers from behind the net. Just under six minutes in, Binnington made a massive blocker stop on Perreault on a beautiful feed from Hayes. The Jets continued to apply pressure, and with 11:13 left in the first period, Joel Edmundson tripped Patrik Laine to take the game’s first penalty.
Thirty seconds into the power play, Laine’s shot from the left circle dot was blocked by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. The play was blown dead as the puck was out of sight, and Bortuzzo appeared to be injured on the play. He went straight to the bench, but would return. Bortuzzo also left the game during Game Two on Friday night, but eventually returned as well.
The Blues were much more physical on Sunday night than the previous two games, including several hits from Ivan Barbashev in the first period. This was mostly a result of the Jets possessing the puck the majority of the period. However, after a very strong period, David Perron would put the Blues on the board first with a power play goal on a wrist shot from the slot that beat goaltender Connor Hellebuyck on the blocker side. Hellebuyck’s blocker has been a focus for the Blues so far in this series, and managed to expose him again despite a strong period from himself and the Jets in front of him. The Jets outshot the Blues 13-7 in the first period, but the Blues took a 1-0 lead into the second period.
The Jets continued to control the play, and were finally rewarded for it just under five minutes in. Hayes’ wrist shot from the blue line went through traffic to beat Binnington on a goal that would only further feed into Hayes’ newfound confidence.
Just over a minute after the goal, Binnington had to make a huge save on Kyle Connor on a one-timer in the slot. The save resulted in a rebound, and he made another save a few seconds later on a point shot from Jacob Trouba. Binnington covered the puck, but with super-pest Dustin Byfuglien in front poking away at the puck, a scrum would ensue that centred around St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn and Byfuglien throwing punches at each other. Schenn and Byfuglien both went to the box on roughing penalties, resulting in 4-on-4 for two minutes. The St. Louis Blues were one of the league’s best 4-on-4 teams this season with a plus-5 goal differential, while the Jets were average and had just broke even. However, the Jets dominated the first thirty seconds of 4-on-4 as Trouba found Laine alone in front of Binnington, and Laine buried the puck past Binnington’s glove to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.
The Jets continued to use their speed, and with 33 seconds left on the 4-on-4, Blues defender Jay Bouwmeester tripped Connor in the corner, was sent to the box, and the Jets had a 33-second 4-on-3 powerplay. The Jets won the faceoff, and after several quick back and forth passes between Connor and Blake Wheeler, Connor buried a perfectly placed wrist shot over the glove of Binnington to give the Jets a 3-1 lead. For the most part, the Jets continued to dominate the remainder of the second period. The Jets outshot the Blues 12-6 in the frame, and took a commanding 3-1 lead into the third period.
Still within two goals, the Blues began the third period with a threatening comeback attempt. Blues defender Colton Parayko went end to end and had a great chance that was stopped by Hellebuyck. Parayko drew a hooking penalty against Wheeler.
On the ensuing power play, Vladimir Tarasenko took a beautiful pass from Schenn and buried a beautiful shot glove side on Hellebuyck, making it a 3-2 game.
A little over two minutes after the Blues goal, Brandon Tanev took a loose puck the other way on a 3-on-2 rush. On a give-and-go play with Andrew Copp, Tanev deflected a pass toward Binnington and into the net to give the Jets a 4-2 lead. Three minutes after the Tanev goal, Byfuglien pulled off a quick reverse on Parayko below the Blues goal line, and banked a shot off of Binnington’s mask and into the net to give the Jets a 5-2 lead.
Although Alex Steen cut the Jets lead to 5-3 with a little over six minutes left, Connor scored just over a minute later to make it 6-3. Blues coach Craig Berube pulled Binnington with three and a half minutes left to give the home team the extra attacker, but it proved inconsequential. The Jets held on to their 6-3 lead, and beat the Blues in convincing fashion on the road.
The Blues outshot the Jets 16-4 in the third period, and the shots were even after sixty minutes at 29 apiece.
My Winnipeg Jets HERO:
It is worth noting that many of the Jets top players played a great game on Sunday night, but perhaps none more noticeable than Dustin Byfuglien. It was perhaps Byfuglien’s first dominant game since his initial injury on December 29th. He’s played just a dozen games since then, and these appearances were often staggered due to injury setbacks. He was his usual physical self, and showed similarities to the Byfuglien that terrorized teams during the Jets run to the Western Conference Finals last year. The Jets need more of this from “Big Buff” if they hope to come back and win this series, and Sunday was a great step in the right direction. Honourable mention goes to Kevin Hayes in a fantastic bounce back performance.
My Winnipeg Jets VILLAIN:
Although he had some decent rushes, I would say Nikolaj Ehlers if I had to pick someone. Ehlers has struggled to get on the scoresheet at times this season. His year reminded me a bit of William Nylander in Toronto. Ehlers had an injury plagued season, and it seemed difficult for the 23-year old to get on the scoresheet at a consistent rate. Although he spent this season doing some good things on the ice, he didn’t get the tangible results. These struggles have sort of followed him into the playoffs. I would like to see Ehlers chip in on the score sheet in Game Four, and in the series moving forward.
THIRD STAR: Patrik Laine (1 goal, 1 assist, 16:57 TOI)
SECOND STAR: Kyle Connor (2 goals, 5 shots, 22:25 TOI)
FIRST STAR: Dustin Byfuglien (1 goal, 1 assist, 25:05 TOI)
Potential Changes for Game Four:
I mean, it’s really hard to question too much about the Jets’ game on Sunday night. However, it is no secret that they could have done a more secure job in the third period, and this specifically refers to their third line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, and Brandon Tanev. This line is typically pretty good on the forecheck, but they did a poor job defensively on Sunday night, allowing way more chances than they generated. I’d like to see this line do a better job without the puck on Tuesday night. After all, this is supposed to be their shutdown line. A better performance from Dmitry Kulikov also should not be too much to ask. All in all, the Jets need a similar effort in Game Four.
Statistics provided by hockey-reference and NHL.com
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals