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SWEEP!!!

Photos by Rusty Barton and James Carey Lauder

SWEEP!!!

Kyle Connor was the hero as the Winnipeg Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At 6:57 of the third overtime period, Connor swept in from the blue line after taking a stretch pass from Neal Pionk and beat Edmonton netminder  Mike Smith just under the wing on the blocker side to give the Jets a 4-3 victory in Game 4 of the North Division semifinal series.

With the win, the Jets not only upset the heavily-favoured Oilers, they swept them out of the playoffs in four straight games. Connor McDavid, the best player in hockey today, did not win a single playoff game this spring.

It definitely didn’t feel like a sweep, that’s for sure,” Mark Scheifele said post-series. “We grind every single game. There was no easy ice out there. They played fantastic too. They came back in games. They pushed us to the limit, but we just were on the right side of it for those four games.”

It was a remarkable series as the Jets won three games in overtime — winning goals by Paul Stastny, Nikolaj Ehlers and Connor — while getting superb goaltending from the incomparable Connor Hellebuyck.

“It’s a weird series, it’s a weird sweep for sure,” Connor McDavid said following the game. “You don’t usually see them like that, but it is what it is.”

The Jets opened the scoring at 6:16 on the power play when Mark Scheifele one-timed a perfect pass from Blake Wheeler and buried a slapper past Oilers goalie Mike Smith. Josh Morrissey drew the other assist as the Jets scored the first goal in a game in regulation time in the series. It was also Scheifele’s first goal of the series.

Edmonton tied the game moments later when Connor McDavid wrapped it around the Jets net and inside the post past a sprawling Connor Hellebuyck at 7:33. Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi drew the assists on McDavid’s first goal of the series.

The Jets regained the lead at 15:56 when Adam Lowry dug the puck out of a scrum at the half-boards and got it back to Morrissey who whipped a shot at the net that was tipped by Mason Appleton, hit Darnell Nurse’s leg and went past a startled Smith. Appleton was awarded the goal from Morrissey and Lowry.

The teams went to the locker room after 20. minutes with the Jets ahead 2-1. Winnipeg outshot Edmonton 12-5 but Winnipeg also had three power plays to none for the Oilers. That would play a big role in the next 40 minutes of hockey.

Edmonton tied it early in the third when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins outworked Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk for a rebound and went in and beat Hellebuyck. It was a one-on-three and Nugent-Hopkins came out on top. Zach Kassian and Adam Larsson drew the assists. The Oilers had evened the game at 2-2 on their seventh shot on goal.

The Oilers took the lead on the power play as Alex Chiasson grabbed a rebound in front of Hellebuyck and beat the Jets netminder at 16:37. It was Edmonton’s 13th shot and they had a 3-2 lead. Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins drew the assists.

The penalties continue to go to the Jets. Almost immediately after the power play goal, the Jets Logan Stanley was assessed a slashing penalty and with seven second remaining in that penalty, the Jets Josh Morrissey was sent off for cross-checking.

Fortunately, for Winnipeg, the period drew to a close before any more damage was done. Edmonton would start the final period with another man-advantage for 1:27.

In all, Edmonton had four power plays in the second period and scored once. The Oilers outshot the Jets 12-6 (Winnipeg was ahead on shots 18-17 after 40 minutes) as the puck seldom left the Winnipeg zone during the entire 20-minute frame.

The Jets fought off the final two penalties and then tied the game on their first shot of the third period.

Edmonton’s Ethan Bear gave the puck away in his own end, Wheeler corralled it, passed it to Kyle Connor who moved it quickly to Scheifele who rifled a laser under the bar, over Smith’s glove to even things up at 6:01.

And that’s how regulation time ended. For the third straight time in the first four games of the series, a game was headed to overtime. However, make no mistake, regulation time was weird. The Oilers had an incredible territorial advantage and yet both teams finished the game with 23 shots on goal. While the Oilers had the puck in the Jets end for most of the evening, they just didn’t take very many shots. Or, the Jets didn’t allow many shots to get through. After 60 minutes, the Jets had blocked 27 shots and the last block sent captain Blake Wheeler to the locker room after he stopped a Kris Russell-shot right in the manhood.

The Jets finished regulation time with 31 hits to Edmonton’s 28 and 27 blocks to Edmonton’s 16. Winnipeg went one-for-three on the power play while the Oilers were one-for-four. The Jets won 55 per cent of the face-offs.

There was no scoring in the opening period of overtime but it was clearly the Jets best period of the night. Winnipeg had numerous chances, especially Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, but Smith was very good. Hellebuyck wasn’t tested as often but he was solid, as well. The Jets outshot Edmonton 10-5 as Winnipeg had much of the territorial control.

There were periods of the second intermission that looked a lot like Tuesday. night Beer League Night at the Iceplex. Both teams looked tired and sloppy. Of course, at the 15-minute, 38-second mark of the period, it became the longest game in Jets/Thrashers history, surpassing 85:37 in Game 2 of the Second Round in 2018. So, you can forgive two hockey teams for feeling a little sluggish. After all, Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse had played 57:09 through five periods (breaking Chris Pronger’s club record of 47:17 in 2006) while teammate Connor McDavid had played 43:32. Nurse finished with 62 minutes and seven seconds of total ice time in the game.

Edmonton outshot Winnipeg 8-7 (Winnipeg had outshot Edmonton 40-37 through the first 100 minutes).  The Jets had blocked 44 shots through the first five periods.

“I think once we got into the second overtime, it was kind of just almost robotic,” Wheeler reflected. “Nobody wanted to make a mistake and everyone was exhausted. We played an overtime game yesterday. We played four Stanley Cup playoff games in six days. It’s not often you see a break of breakaway in triple overtime to solve it but, tell you what, we had the right guy on the breakaway. We’re pretty gassed but we’re pumped up in our room.”

The final overtime started slowly then the Jets got a power play when Ethan Bear fired a shot out of play. The Oilers fought off then penalty, but they were running out of gas when the Jets took advantage of a slow Edmonton change. Pionk took the puck from McDavid and fed a perfect stretch pass to Connor who went in alone on Smith and sealed the series.

“It was kind of end of our shift there and was trailing a bit so I was just trying to work as hard as I can to get back,” Connor said of the game-winner. “Peeler [Neal Pionk] made a great play. He was on McDavid there, just to get his stick on it and whack it up the boards and I saw it coming and tried to skate as fast as I can. It’s our mentality, the whole overtime just get pucks to the net so just shot that one and, yeah, that one feels pretty good.”

The Jets outshot Edmonton 43-40, but as good as Smith played in the Oilers net, Hellebuyck was often spectacular for the Jets. meanwhile, this might have been the greatest game Pionk has ever played. He harassed and shut down McDavid for more than 40 minutes and then, in the end, he sent Connor away to score the winner.

“It was a battle each and every game,” Scheifele said. “Every shift it was a battle. But like Helly said, we had every guy out there sacrificing, taking hits, making hits, blocking shots. It was a full team effort and I’m definitely proud of every single guy in this room.”

The Jets will now face the winner of the Montreal-Toronto series. The Leafs currently lead that series 2-1.

Covered his first junior hockey game for the Sarnia Observer in 1968. Covered his first Jets game for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. Still thinks hockey is the bees knees.

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