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Jets Bomb Golden Knights 5-1 in Playoff Opener

Blake Wheeler, with Neal Pionk, had a terrific game for the Jets (Photo by Jordy Grossman)

Jets Bomb Golden Knights 5-1 in Playoff Opener

If it’s possible to play a perfect road game, the Winnipeg Jets pulled it off on Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

The Jets took a two-goal lead and maintained it, checked like they really meant it and got solid goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck when they needed it as they opened the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs with a shocking 5-1 victory over the heavily-favoured Vegas Golden Knights in the desert.

It was a superb effort as the eighth-seed in the West beat the No. 1 seed — and Western Conference regular season champions — with glorious purpose.

Meanwhile, Hellebuyck didn’t need to be at his absolute best in net, just steady and he was indeed that. The Jets big puck stopper is now 17-19 in 36 post-season games with Winnipeg and on Tuesday night tied Hall of Famer  Georges Vezina himself by becoming only the second goalie in NHL history to win his team’s first 17 playoff games.

After a scoreless first period in which the Jets outshot the Knights 14-8, Winnipeg opened the scoring at 1:24 of the second period when Kyle Connor took a perfect pass in the slot from Pierre-Luc Dubois and buried a one-timer past Laurent Brossoit. Josh Morrissey also drew an assist.

Then, just 62 seconds later at 2:26, Dubois came flying down. the left wing and ripped a shot under the bar, on the short side, that fooled Brossoit and suddenly made it 2-0 Jets. Blake Wheeler drew the only assist and the Jets were in the midst of playing a perfect road game.

But then, a mistake in the neutral zone gave the Knights a break and at 15:49 William Karlsson drilled a wrist shot, on the rush, into Hellebuyck’s stick-side corner and the Knights were back in the game at 2-1.

That’s how the second period ended with Vegas outshooting Winnipeg 8-7, although Vegas did have two power-play chances and came up empty.

The Jets made it 3-1 at the 3:53 mark of the third period when Wheeler whipped a backhander past Brossoit after taking a great back-pass from Nino Neiderreiter. Nate Schmidt also picked up a helper.

At that point, the Jets simply checked the Knights right into the ice. Vegas’ D-men barely had time to breathe, especially in their own end, before a Jets player was all over them. Late in the game, after killing their third penalty of the night, Adam Lowry scored into the empty net at 18:39 to close it out. Wheeler and Neal Pionk drew the assists as Wheeler finished with three big points.

That goal emptied the building in a hurry, but before the final buzzer sounded, Lowry scored his second of the night, this one on the power play at 19:41 as Vladislav Namestnikov fed Niederreiter who fed Lowry who roofed it on the short side to make it a rout.

The Jets went one-for-three on the power play while Vegas was zero-for-three. The Jets outshot the Knights 31-17 as they completely dominated the game. Vegas won 54 per cent of the face-offs and outhit the Jets 65-51 (really?).

The three stars were Dubois, Connor and Karlsson but the best player on the ice and the player with the best stats line of the night was Wheeler. He had a goal, two assists and was plus-two with three hots, a hit and a face-off mark of 67 per cent in just 12 minutes and 27 seconds of ice time,. It might have been his best game of the season.

In a very scary moment during a scramble in front of the Vegas net in the first period, the Jets’ Morgan Barron was cut over the eye by Brossoit’s skate. Barron took 75 stitches in his forehead and came back to play with a full cage. He also played very well.

The Jets and Knights will play Game 2 of the best-of-seven opening round series on Thursday night at T-Mobile  Arena on the Strip in Las Vegas. Game time is 9 p.m. CDT on Sportsnet.

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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