Friday night at Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg, the St. Louis Blues turned a series full of bad Jets decisions into four goals and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Central Division series.
Oskar Sundqvist scored his first two career playoff goals while Jordan Binnington made 26 saves and Ryan O’Reilly notched the winner at 3:46 of the third period as the Blues beat the Jets 4-3 to win their second straight game in the Jets’ rink and go back home to St. Louis with a stranglehold on the series.
“Our five on five game has to tighten up,”said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “We took a 2-1 lead and ran 10 straight chances and didn’t score. They came back and tied the game and then ran eight straight chances. We had the front half of the second half and they had the back half. We’re not going to St. Louis feeling like we’re that far off. We’re good on the road. Finding a bit of an edge. That;’s the key.”
For the Jets, this one was a bit of a mess right from the start. In fact, just as they did in Game 1 of the series on Wednesday night, the Jets didn’t play to win for most of the night. Instead, they played not to lose. They had no jump early and no inclination to attack until the final four minutes of the game. Instead, they were content to play rope-a-dope and let the Blues come to them.
And the Blues came hard while the Jets sat back and made far too many questionable decisions. Especially in five-on-five situations.
St. Louis opened the scoring when Josh Morrissey made a mistake in the neutral zone and that allowed Sundqvist to move in on a two-on-one with Jaden Schwartz and beat Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck with a wrister through the five hole.
It looked pretty bad at the time, but to their credit, the Jets hung tough.
After killing off back-to-back penalties to Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp (including a 17-second two-man disadvantage), the Jets got some terrific work behind the Blues net from both Copp and Scheifele, who got the puck to Blake Wheeler, alone in front, and Wheeler made no mistake, ripping a shot high over Binnington.
It was 1-1 and Wheeler had his first goal of the playoffs.
That’s how the first period ended as both teams had eight shots on goal.
In the second period, the Jets took a 2-1 lead when “The Play” worked. It’s a simple play. The Jets get a power play, Wheeler goes his spot to the right of the opposing net, makes a perfect cross-ice pass to Patrik Laine who proceeds to blister a shot to the back of the net. It worked at 2:49 of the second and the Jets not only had a 2-1 lead but Laine had his second goal of the playoffs.
But St. Louis wasn’t going anywhere. After Winnipeg missed four superb chances to take a 3-1 lead, the Blues came down the ice on a rush, Robert Thomas won a battle behind the net and got the puck to Pat Maroon who was left all alone in front. Maroon jammed it past Hellebuyck and the game was tied 2-2.
Three minutes later, after a relentless forechecking effort by the Blues, St. Louis came down the ice on a three-on-two and Sundqvist beat Hellebuyck again for his second of the night. Brandon’s Joel Edmundson drew an assist.
However, before the period ended, the Jets tied it up again. After the Blues’ Thomas was called for hooking Adam Lowry, the Jets got the puck in deep to Kyle Connor. Connor fed Mark Scheifele, who was alone in the slot, and Scheifele wristed it into the corner on Binnington’s stick side. It was 3-3 and the teams were deadlocked after 40 minutes.
St. Louis outshot Winnipeg 15-6 and actually dominated play at times, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The scoreboard did not reflect the statistics and Hellebuyck had been better than Binnington.
That ended in the third. At 3:46 of the final period, O’Reilly got the puck in the Jets zone and from 35-feet out ripped a shot between the elbow and hip of a startled Hellebuyck to give the Blues a 4-3 lead.
Despite a frantic finish, the Jets couldn’t score the equalizer as the Blues were simply quicker, more effective with the puck and much more aggressive in the corners. St. Louis was better from start to finish and the Jets didn’t play urgently until the dying minutes.
Winnipeg outshot St. Louis 15-9 in the third period, but the Blues outshot the Jets 32-29 over 60 minutes. The Jets did manage to win 53 per cent of the faceoffs and outhit St. Louis 32-26, but three players — Ben Chiarot (6), Brandon Tanev (5) and Kevin Hayes (4) — had 15 of those hits.
The Jets and Blues will meet again Sunday evening at 6:30 in St. Louis. For the Jets, a win is imperative.