After Game 4, the Winnipeg Jets have tied the series against the St. Louis Blues at 2-2.
Approaching game four, this is a crucial game for both teams. For the St. Louis Blues, game four means an opportunity to take a stranglehold over the Jets with a 3-1 series lead. The stakes are higher for Winnipeg; to tie the series at two means a new opportunity, but to be down 3-1 means a constant uphill battle from here on out. Sometimes desperation brings out a teams best qualities, but for a team like the Jets, they would way rather have that control.
After game two I wrote that Connor Hellebuyck had to be better if the Winnipeg Jets had hope to win the series. On Tuesday night, Connor Hellebuyck looked much more like the goaltender the Jets signed to a six-year extension a year ago. About six and a half minutes into the first period, the Blues started to gain the momentum and test the Jets. A shot from the blue line by Alex Pietrangelo forced Hellebuyck to make a huge save that coughed up a rebound, but the puck came off Hellebuyck so quick that the puck was too hot for Colton Parayko to grab the rebound. The thirty seconds to follow featured heavy pressure on the forecheck by the Blues, and a couple of turnovers by the Jets. Colton Parayko fired a shot from the point that forced Hellebuyck to make a huge glove save, and after another Blues cycle, Ryan O’Reilly fired a shot deflected out of play by Jets defender Jacob Trouba.
The Blues were also very hard on the forecheck for the entire first period, including Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist laying out big-bodied Ben Chiarot just under nine minutes into the period that sparked the raucous St. Louis crowd. The Blues significantly controlled the pace of play in the first period.
The Jets best chance came on a power play as a result of a tripping penalty to David Perron of the Blues. Blake Wheeler passed the puck from the side wall to Kyle Connor on the goal line who turned toward Blues goalie Jordan Bennington and tried to stuff it in, to no avail.
The Blues outshot the Jets 10-5 in the first period, and there was no score after one period.
In the second period, the Jets had a much more evident killer instinct from the first shift.
Just under two minutes in, Blake Wheeler found a loose puck in the circle to the right of Binnington and fired it at the Blues net. The puck hit the skates of two different Blues defenders, and forced Binnington to make a huge save on an awkward shot. The Blues quickly cleared the puck, but the Jets took it right back in, and Kyle Connor fed a pass into the slot that Mark Scheifele redirected toward Binnington and forced the Blues rookie net minder to make a remarkable pad save. Thirty seconds later, Mathieu Perreault forced Binnington to turn the puck over behind his net. The loose puck went to Jack Roslovic in the slot, but his backhand was stopped by Blues defensemen Robert Bortuzzo to keep the game even.
The Jets continued to get the better of the chances in period two. With just under eleven minutes left, Brandon Tanev took a flip pass from Adam Lowry for a breakaway. Tanev faked forehand to backhand, but Jordan Binnington robbed him with his glove hand, in one of the best scoring chances of the series to this point.
Through the halfway point of the hockey game, each goaltender had been the best player for their respective teams.
With under a minute left, Patrick Maroon fed Joel Edmundson for a short 2-on-1. Edmundson set up Robert Thomas, but Thomas didn’t quite get all of the puck. Hellebuyck still had to make a huge save on the play.
With 32 seconds left in the second period, Jets forward Mathieu Perreault was called for cross-checking to give the Blues their first power play of the night. The Blues were dangerous quickly, as Alex Pietrangelo fired a shot off the boards that bounced out to David Perron. Perron fired two chances on Connor Hellebuyck, but Hellebuyck stayed sharp and kept the scored tied at 0-0 after two periods.
The shots in the second period were 14-14, but the Jets had some very strong chances to get ahead.
With the Blues still on the powerplay, Ryan O’Reilly gave it to Alex Pietrangelo in the middle, who fed Vladimir Tarasenko at the top of the left circle. Tarasenko fired an absolutely perfectly placed wrist shot over the glove of Connor Hellebuyck, and the Blues finally got the games first goal 35 seconds into the third period. The Blues grabbed the momentum after the goal.
A minute and a half later, the Blues had a 2-on-1, as Robert Thomas fired a wrist shot blocker side on Connor Hellebuyck that he turned away. Hellebuyck seemed much more prepared for the Blues focus on his blocker side tonight than he had through the series so far. He was completely dialed from the drop of the puck.
Although the Blues had momentum, many of their early third period chances came from a distance away from Hellebuyck. Although these shots seemed to be an issue in games one and two, Hellebuyck turned most of these away with ease.
With thirteen and a half minutes left, the Jets sprung on a 2-on-1 as Scheifele with the puck had Kyle Connor with him. Scheifele fired a shot from the right face-off dot that forced Binnington to make a huge glove save. A little over a minute later, Paul Maurice snuck his top line right back out and it paid off. On a rush over the blue line, Scheifele and Connor pulled off a nice give-and-go, and Connor fired a pass at the backside of Scheifele’s stick that he tipped on goal and it went top corner over Binnington’s glove to tie the game at one apiece. The play is typical of the Jets top line, similar to the play I described from the second period. From that moment, this hockey game belonged to the Winnipeg Jets.
On the next shift, Nikolaj Ehlers fed Patrik Laine all alone in the slot, and Binnington made an amazing glove save point-blank. A couple of minutes later, Kyle Connor one-timed a shot in the slot off a pass from Scheifele that stayed on the ice and kind of fooled Binnington, but he made a great save nonetheless. With five minutes left, Tyler Myers fired a point shot through traffic that hit Kyle Connor (and possibly other things) that almost fooled Binnington, but the Blues rookie was sharp yet again.
The Blues were given another power play opportunity with three and a half minutes left as Matthieu Perreault went off for tripping. It was an undeniable call, even so late in a tied playoff hockey game. The Jets killed the penalty off with relative ease.
With one minute left, and the Jets on a 3-on-2 rush, Jets defencemen Josh Morrissey fed Mark Scheifele coming in with speed. Scheifele protected the puck on the outside before pulling it to his backhand, but the diving Scheifele couldn’t stuff it in past Binnington, and the game tied a one goal each after regulation.
The Jets out shot the Blues 15-7 in what was likely their most dominant period so far in this series. However, Jordan Binnington was incredible, and this game would need overtime.
The play in the overtime was back-and-forth, but neither team found significant chances. Ultimately, the Jets controlled the puck for the majority of overtime. In a way, it seemed like the Jets had a bit of a different, more tactical approach in OT. It sort of reminded me of Tiger Woods at the Masters on Sunday. The Jets were plodding their way through their zone and the neutral with the puck, careful to give up possession. Their patience paid off. Six minutes into overtime, Blake Wheeler rushed the puck toward the Blues defensemen. After Wheeler lost the puck, Mark Scheifele picked up the loose puck and fired a shot toward Binnington that was stopped. Scheifele grabbed his own rebound, and passed it to Kyle Connor who was streaking toward the Blues net. Connor buried the puck past Jordan Binnington to tie the series at two. The Jets were methodical in overtime and it completely paid off. Kyle Connor scores the first playoff overtime goal in the history of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0, and the series goes back to Bell MTS Place as a best-of-three.
My Winnipeg Jets HERO:
It’s tough, again, to pick just one guy. The Jets played a solid game after weathering a storm in the first ten minutes of the hockey game. Many of their best players were great. But, I find it hard to believe this win is possible without Connor Hellebuyck playing so solid in net. After game two, I wrote that Connor Hellebuyck needed to be better. The team in front of him was better too, but I think there were times on Tuesday night where the Winnipeg Jets fed off of the energy of their goaltender. Connor Hellebuyck was absolutely dialled in during game four, and if he plays like that moving forward, the Jets become as deadly as they were in 2018. Honourable mentions go to Mark Scheifele, and game three villain Nikolaj Ehlers.
My Winnipeg Jets VILLAIN:
Matty Perreault. I love Perreault, but quite simply, his undisciplined penalties could have cost the Winnipeg Jets tonight. The Blues capitalized on their first chance, and Perreault got lucky that the Jets were fantastic on their second kill attempt of the night. I want to see Perreault generate more chances in the next few games. Moreover, I want Perreault to see more minutes. That is slightly out of his control, but Perreault needs to give Paul Maurice no choice but to put him out there.
Three Stars of the Game:
THIRD STAR: Kyle Connor, WPG (1 goal, 1 assist, game-winner, 21:18 TOI)
SECOND STAR: Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (31 saves on 32 shots)
FIRST STAR: Jordan Binnington, STL (37 saves on 39 shots)
Potential Changes for Game Five:
It is not so much a change from game four to game five, but rather a change from games one and two to game five. The Jets need to harness the energy of the crowd, but not rely on it. They need to approach game five with the same urgency they’ve found the past two games. Simply put, it is asking a lot of the Jets to win three of three games in this series at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. The Jets need to realize that they have an incredible opportunity to not only take back home-ice, but also control their own narrative moving forward in this series. This is a team that has won 57 of their last 82 home games. That is remarkable. They need that urgency and confidence at home. The Jets have been criticized for not having a “killer instinct” this series. Game Five at Bell MTS Place is a great opportunity to show that confidence, and killer instinct.
stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler/Nikos Michals