A lights-out performance from Connor Hellebuyck and goals from unexpected players lifted the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the North Division first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers.
Hellebuyck made 32 saves on his 28th birthday and depth forward Dominic Toninato scored the game-winner in the third period.
The Jets pulled off the win without Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who both missed Game 1 with injuries.
Right from puck drop, the Jets were finishing checks and laying into the speedy Oilers, taking every opportunity to establish themselves as the physically dominant team. The strong defensive work kept the Oilers from getting a single shot on goal until the 11:35 mark of the first period.
Not to be outdone physically, Edmonton’s Josh Archibald squared up Dylan DeMelo launching him into the boards. DeMelo was slow to get up and in noticeable pain as he sat back down on the bench to catch his breath.
As the horn sounded to end the first period, Connor McDavid, upset about a hit behind the play from Neal Pionk, cross-checked Blake Wheeler in the back, which had everyone on the ice grabbing a dance partner to sort out any aggression. McDavid took a few extra jabs at Pionk and anyone else who got involved making it clear the Oilers weren’t going to be bullied in the first taste of playoff hockey in the North Division.
The Oilers came flying out of the gate to start the second period, hemming the Jets’ third line in their own zone for more than a minute culminating with Edmonton’s best scoring chance. Draisaitl caught some Jets forwards cheating out of the zone and found Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all alone in front.
Nugent-Hopkins settled down the German’s saucer pass and snapped the puck into the glove of a waiting Hellebuyck, keeping the game scoreless.
The Oilers struck first as Jesse Puljujärvi was the only player on the ice who knew where a bouncing puck was and it happened to be right in front of him. Puljujärvi snuck the puck just under Hellebuyck’s left arm for his first career playoff goal to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead after a flurry of shots and sustained opening pressure.
Winnipeg answered right back in a hurry with a first of their own capitalizing on Mike Smith’s struggle to control rebounds. Tucker Poolman crossed the blue line and dropped the puck to Blake Wheeler who sent a low wrist shot on net. Poolman stuck with the play sneaking behind the defence and tapped in a juicy rebound on Winnipeg’s second shot of the period and Poolman’s first playoff career playoff goal.
Midway through the third period, some confusion surrounding a point shot from Logan Stanley saw a delayed reaction from the Winnipeg bench and the Edmonton goal judges. Stanley, true to form, unleashed a heavy shot on net and Dominic Toninato was able to get his blade on the rising shot, deflecting the puck off the left post into the middle bar and back out into play. Toninato initially raised his arms, but play continued as everyone in the rink wasn’t sure if the puck went in.
The play continued into the Jets’ zone until the horn blared and the head referee confirmed the goal. Toninato was already back on the bench as his teammates cheered for the go-ahead goal and it appeared as if Hellebuyck yelled at Stanley that he’d scored his first point in his first career playoff game.
Hellebuyck stood on his head all game and faced increasing pressure in the final few minutes as the Oilers pressed for the equalizer. Darnell Nurse dumped the puck in and a fortunate bounce off a referee’s skate made for an easy clear for the Jets.
Paul Stastny, who left the final regular season game briefly with an apparent injury, centered the second line between Andrew Copp and Kristian Vesalainen. Vesalainen and Dominic Toninato, who both haven’t played much this year slotted into the lineup replacing the injured Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers.
The puck landed on Kyle Connor’s stick who made no mistake sending the insurance goal into an empty net. Not long after, Blake Wheeler cut around Ethan Bear potting the fourth of the night with Mike Smith watching from the bench.
Game 2 goes Friday in Edmonton with the pre-game show at 6 p.m. on 680 CJOB and the puck dropping shortly after 8 p.m.
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