Hellebuyck was sensational. He made a save off Matt Dumba in the second period that probably saved the game. In fact, in what was a superb evening of hockey, Hellebuyck was unquestionably the hero as he led the Jets to a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven opening round series.
“Connor is the reason we’re where we are today,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “He’s just gaining so much confidence and he’s always very good after he gives up four or five goals. We wouldn’t be here without him. You need your goalie to steal one on the road to have success in the playoffs and Connor was the big difference tonight.”
In Game 3 of the series, Hellebuyck allowed six goals on 22 shots through two periods and was pulled for the final 20 minutes, but just as he’s done all season long, he bounced back. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Hellebuyck was 11-1-0 after giving up five or more goals in a game. Now he’s 12-1-0.
Meanwhile, the Jets got two goals from Mark Scheifele to win it. Scheifele converted a great pass from Kyle Connor at the 19:32 mark of the first period to give the Jets a 1-0 lead (Josh Morrissey also drew an assist).
With Dubnyk and Hellebuyck exchanging great saves, the Jets didn’t score their second goal of the night until Scheifele dumped the puck into an empty net – beating the speedy Mikael Granlund down the ice — at 19:49 of the third. Wheeler and Andrew Copp drew the assists and the Jets had a 3-1 series lead.
“We had a little more jump in our step tonight,” said Hellebuyck, who was named a finalist for the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy just before the game. “We brought our game and took care of the details. We stuck to our game all night. The guys in here love winning and the guys in here will do what it takes to win.”
When asked about the 6-2 loss in Game 3, Hellebuyck just shrugged.
“I didn’t even think twice about the last game,” he said “I just forgot about it and got prepared for this one tonight.”
The Wild had plenty of opportunities to tie the game, but Hellebuyck and a lack of puck luck was too much for Minnesota.
The Jets were all over Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk on Tuesday night.
“We just didn’t do enough to win,” said Veteran matt Cullen. “We’ve got to turn our focus to Friday.”
Once again, the officiating was not up to par for Stanley Cup play. The Wild were incensed when Josh Morrissey gave Eric Staal a high-stick in front of the Jets net and there was no call. Staal, who was upset about the no-call, said that the official apologized to him. Morrissey was asked by the Minnesota media if he did it on purpose.
“Complete accident,” he said, after watching the play on video. “I’m not a dirty player. I didn’t mean to have my stick up there and I would never try and hurt anybody.”
The Wild outshot the Jets 30-28 (7-11, 12-10, 8-9) but Hellebuyck was simply too good on this night. The Jets outhit the Wild 24-19 and Winnipeg won 52 per cent of the faceoffs.
The Wild did get some very bad news right before the game when it was announced that high-scoring Zach Parise would miss four-to-six weeks with a fractured sternum. He was injured during his second-to-last shift on Sunday night. The Jets played without big Tyler Myers. Rookie Tucker Poolman was the sixth defenseman and logged eight minutes of icetime. Dustin Byfuglien played 28 minutes and five seconds while Jacob Trouba logged 26 minutes and six seconds of icetime.
Both of these teams were among the best in the NHL when it came to playing on home ice this season. The Jets will have a great opportunity to finish this series on Friday night in Winnipeg. Counting the first two games of the playoffs, the Jets are 34-7-2 at home this season.
Game 5 in this Central Division semifinal series goes Friday night at Bell MTS Place at 6:30 p.m.
By Scott Taylor
Photos by Marilyn Indahl/Minnesota Score