Paul Stastny’s sudden and dramatic overtime goal has given the Winnipeg Jets a commanding lead in the NHL’s North Division semifinal.
Stastny fired a high shot past Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith at 4:06 of the first overtime period, to give the Jets a thrilling 1-0 victory in Edmonton on Friday night. With the win, the underdog Jets took a 2-0 lead in the series as once again, Connor Hellebuyck played brilliantly through 64 minutes to give his team a chance to win.
““He’s the reason we have a chance,” captain Blake Wheeler said post-game. “He’s the reason we are a playoff team and the reason we have confidence every time we go out there. You just can’t say enough about having a guy who you believe is going to stop every shot. It just gives guys so much confidence to go out there and play with a little bit more freedom, a little bit more confidence knowing that if I may the wrong play at the wrong time, I got a guy back there that can bail me out.”
Again, the Jets oft-maligned defensive unit was terrific, shutting down the high powered Connor McDavid line. With Hellebuyck at the top of his game, Stastny’s OT tally put an exclamation point on a wonderful defensive effort. An effort that was highlighted by a diving arm-save in the third period by Dylan DeMelo — off a shot in tight by McDavid himself.
Before the series started, Winnipeg knew it had to shut down McDavid. So, the Jets went out and held McDavid scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time since his first two games against Winnipeg in 2016.
Meanwhile, Stastny’s winning goal eluded Smith in part because the goaltender was screened — by former Jets D-man Dmitri Kulikov.
“I don’t shoot from there very often, I was looking for Copper (Andrew Copp, who set up the winner),” said Stastny. “If I do shoot from there, I’m usually looking for a screen and I had one. It’s a big win but now we have to get home sand play back-to-back games which is kind of tricky.”
The first period was a perfect example of high-level playoff hockey. The Jets came out flying and had half-a-dozen superb chances to score — especially Kyle Connor (three times), Andrew Copp and Blake Wheeler –but 39-year-old Edmonton net-minder Mike Smith could not have been better. He robbed Connor on two shots on the same play as the Jets winger was left alone in front.
The Jets outshot Edmonton 17-11 and outhit them 19-11 through the first 20 minutes. It was as good a period as the Jets have played in a month and they deserved to be taking a lead into the second. As it was, the first period was scoreless as the Jets seemed to let the Oilers off the hook.
In the second period, Hellebuyck did the job Smith had done in the first. He made a handful of solid saves, especially one right in the crease against Darnell Nurse. Edmonton outshot Winnipeg 12-8 (with 25 shots through two periods, the Jets had three more shots than they did in the their 4-1 win in Game 1) while Winnipeg outhit Edmonton 20-19 (39-30 through 40 minutes). Thanks to outstanding goaltending at both ends, it was 0-0 heading to the third period.
“He made those timely saves,” Paul Stastny said. “More than anything, second and third chances he does a good job kind of scooping the puck up. He’s just so cool and calm there. Our game kind of starts the way he’s going and we just feed off that. He’s very even keel. He’s been like that all year and I’ve said that before. I think nothing has changed his game. He’s just enjoying it too and riding the wave.”
In the final 20 minutes of regulation time, it was like two heavyweight fighters going toe-to-toe. Both Hellebuyck and Smith were perfect while the Jets did an outstanding job of killing off one penalty, then 21 seconds of a two-man disadvantage and then the second penalty. In that kill, defenceman Dylan DeMelo actually laid down on his back and lifted his arms in an effort of blocking a Connor McDavid wrist shot – it worked.
“I just remember going down and I saw the puck go to McDavid,” DeMelo described. “I was on my back so I have to throw something up, but I was on my back so I was thinking maybe I’ll two-pad stack it, but I don’t think I had the extension. So I just put my hands up and luckily it hit me. Even if you see behind that, it hits me, but all these guys are jumping in front of that puck. You need that type of desperation and sacrifice. It was lucky that it hit me and the guys did a great job on the penalty kill for sure. It was a crazy play for sure.”
In the end, Edmonton outshot Winnipeg 11-10 (the Jets outshot the Oilers 35-34 through 60 minutes) while the Jets outhit the Oilers 9-6 (48-36 after 60). After three periods, the Jets blocked 20 shots while the Oilers blocked 15. Edmonton won 57 per cent of the face-offs.
Through regulation, Edmonton was zero-for-three on the power play (the Oilers had two power plays to the Jets none in the third) while the Jets were zero-for-two. There was an obvious high-sticking by Darnell Nurse on Adam Lowry right in front of the referee with less than two minutes to play but the officials were not going to call anything that late in the final period. The game remained 0-0 through three full periods.
Then came Stastny’s dagger. The Jets’ only shot in overtime.
At the end, Edmonton outshot Winnipeg 38-36 while the Jets outhit Edmonton 52-37. The Jets blocked 22 shots to Edmonton’s 15. Hellebuyck now has a .986 save percentage in the first two games of the post-season. He has stopped 70 of 71 shots.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought that far ahead,” Hellebuyck said of Sunday’s Game 3. “I’m in the moment and I told myself, ‘Game by game. Game by game, day by day.’ If I had to think about it real quick, I’m excited for it because I have a great group of guys in front of me that are going to battle and they’re going to battle to the last buzzer goes off. I’m looking forward to it.”
Game 3 in the series goes Sunday at Bell MTS Place. Game time is 6:30 p.m. on Sportsnet.