Winnipeg suffocates Wild in a bounceback Game 4 victory
2-0 win a relief for the team, its Vezina-nominated goalie and well-travelled fanbase
On Sunday, Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck got yanked from his third NHL playoff start, after allowing six goals in two periods.
Two days later, Hellebuyck was nominated for the Vezina trophy — awarded to the league's top goalie — and shut out the Minnesota Wild in a 2-0 Winnipeg win that gave the Jets a 3-1 opening-round series lead.
"He's mentally very, very strong. Very confident in his game and you knew five, 10 minutes into that game that he was right and feeling good," Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said following a game when Hellebuyck stopped all 30 shots the Wild sent in his direction.
It was a bounceback game for the Winnipeg's No. 1 goalie, the team as a whole — and the well-travelled fans of Jets nation.
"The Jets were all over them. No time to breathe. No time to skate. Right on," said Riley Moneyas, who drove down to St. Paul from Hollow Water First Nation, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg's southern basin.
"It's over," he said of the series. "Next game, it's over."
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The Jets head back to Winnipeg with a stranglehold on Minnesota. Historically speaking, teams up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series advance to the next round 90.5 per cent of the time, according to pro-sports probability site whowins.com.
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It was not an easy victory for the Jets. During the first 16 minutes of the game, the two sides stuck far too close on each other than is Minnesota nice.
There were few scoring chances until a late-period hook by Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba put the Wild on the power play. During the penalty kill, defenceman Josh Morrissey decided to test the strength of Eric Staal's left orbital bone by cross-checking the Wild forward in the face.
The refs didn't notice, Staal made it clear he has enough calcium in his diet and even Maurice agreed it was a missed call.
"He's about as clean a player as we have on our club all year," the coach said of Morrissey. "He certainly wasn't looking to send a message."
Minnesota fans nonetheless howled with anger — and kept howling later in the period, when Mark Scheifele spun around at the Wild blue-line, remained onside as he collected the puck and then traded the shot with Kyle Connor.
Scheifele then opened the scoring with a quick shot that ended a sequence Wild fans believed to be offside.
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There were no goals during a slightly more free-wheeling second period, where the Jets generated more scoring chances than the Wild.
The Jets then spent the third period trying to play keep-away with the Wild, often missing the net when they did press in the opposite end. Their best scoring chances included a partial Patrik Laine breakaway created by a long stretch pass.
Scheifele finally put the game away with his second goal of the game, an empty-netter with 11 seconds left on the clock.
The result created some bad (if predictable) blood between two cousins who attended the game: Minnesota resident David Dube and Winnipegger Luc Dube.
"Last game, they were in sync," said David Dube of the Wild, referring to Sunday's 6-2 victory. "This game they were out of sync a lot of the time and that actually was upsetting."
He said it'll be tough for the Wild to win three games in a row at this point — and his cousin Luc agreed.
"I feel pretty confident. The team is playing well. But you still gotta win four games," he said.
Luc Dube was among hundreds of Jets fans at Game 4. The relative ease of obtaining tickets in St. Paul also explains why so many Winnipeg fans routinely make the 750-kilometre drive south to the Minnesota capital.
"It's way easier to get tickets here than home for this playoff game," said Courtney Wiebe, who was able to snag seats behind the net at Xcel Energy Center at face value.
Game 5 of the series is scheduled for Bell MTS Place on Friday, allowing a hometown crowd a chance to witness the Jets seal the deal on the franchise's first playoff-series victory.