Three unanswered goals almost eight minutes into the first period held up over the rest of the game, Saturday night at Bell MTS Place as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 in Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Final.
Connor Hellebuyck made 19 saves on 21 shots faced for a .905 save percentage in the win for the Jets, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots out of 26 shots against for an .846 SV% in 57:21 time on ice in the loss for Vegas.
It didn’t take long for Winnipeg’s home-ice advantage to kick in as Dustin Byfuglien (5) blasted a slap shot past Fleury 65 seconds into the action Saturday night, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead.
Not long after, Alex Tuch took the game’s first penalty— a minor for hooking Winnipeg’s Bryan Little— and the Golden Knights found themselves shorthanded against one of the best power play units in this postseason.
Wheeler worked a cross-ice pass through the low slot to Patrik Laine on the ensuing player advantage and Laine (4) promptly sent a one-timer past Fleury to give the Jets a two-goal lead. Wheeler (14) and Paul Stastny (9) had the assists on the goal at 6:49 of the first period and Winnipeg led, 2-0.
Less than a minute later, the Jets worked another one past the Vegas netminder on a deflection thanks to the skates of Joel Armia (2).
Though the goal was originally waved off, after review (courtesy of a coach’s challenge) it was determined there was no goaltender interference and the call on the ice was overturned. In the eyes of the situation room, Armia had not entered the crease and interfered with Fleury’s ability to make a save too close to receiving/deflecting the puck anyway, despite the fact that Armia had bumped into the Golden Knights goalie prior to scoring.
Nevertheless, Ben Chiarot (3) had the only assist on the goal and the Jets led, 3-0, at 7:35 of the first period.
Fleury and the Golden Knights had allowed three goals on eight shots against in less than eight minutes into the action.
Despite this, Vegas was determined to get one of their own past Hellebuyck and begin the slow climb back on the scoreboard.
Jonathan Marchessault worked the puck from behind the goal line back to Brayden McNabb (2) as the Vegas blueliner snuck in the attacking zone on a delayed call against the Jets. McNabb quickly fired a shot that deflected off of Winnipeg rookie Kyle Connor’s stick and behind Hellebuyck, high-glove side.
The Golden Knights cut the lead to two and Marchessault (8) and Reilly Smith (11) notched the assists on McNabb’s goal at 8:10 of the first period. Winnipeg led, 3-1, and the home crowd was unfazed.
In fact, Jets fans continued taunting Fleury with Bronx cheers for every save and the introduction of the phrase “we want Subban” (as in, Golden Knights backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban) to their lexicon.
Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, however, took a trip into the away bench on a hit delivered from Golden Knights tough guy, Ryan Reaves. Vegas, to their credit, did help Wheeler get back on his feet after flipping head first over the boards.
Past the halfway mark in the first period, Erik Haula slashed Laine and the Jets went on their second power play of the night. It was not as successful as their first man advantage of the game and the Golden Knights generated a couple quality shorthanded scoring chances.
Jets defender, Jacob Trouba, interfered with Tuch at 16:51 of the first period and the Golden Knights went on the power play for the first time, but did not convert on the ensuing advantage.
After one period, Winnipeg led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and 2:1 in shots on goal (12-6). Both teams had blocked five shots each, while Vegas had an advantage in hits (18-13) and Winnipeg led in takeaways (3-0), giveaways (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (72-28). The Golden Knights were 0/1 on the power play and the Jets were 1/2 on the advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Four players took matching minor penalties for roughing just over five minutes into the second period as things heated up on the ice after the whistle. Colin Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Mathieu Perreault and Brandon Tanev each went to the sin bin for their respective sides and play remained even at 5-on-5.
McNabb hooked Wheeler on a breakaway at 9:10 of the second period as Wheeler shot the puck wide through the crease while Fleury was in desperation save mode.
The Jets didn’t waste much time on the player advantage before converting as it only took 44 seconds for Scheifele (12) to redirect a shot from the point by Byfuglien past Fleury to make it a three-goal game.
Scheifele’s goal on the power play came at 9:54 of the second period and made it, 4-1, Winnipeg. Byfuglien (10) and Wheeler (15) had the assists, capping off a three-assist night for Wheeler.
Late in the period, Chiarot tripped James Neal and the Golden Knights went on the power play with just under five minutes to go until the second intermission.
William Karlsson (5) redirected a pass from Marchessault into the twine and cut the lead to two at 15:55 of the second period. Marchessault (9) and Shea Theodore (4) notched the assists on the power play goal for Vegas that made it, 4-2.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in control, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 22-13, in shots on goal. Winnipeg also led in blocked shots (13-7), hits (27-25), takeaways (8-1), giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). The Golden Knights were 1/2 on the power play while Winnipeg was 2/3 on the man advantage after two periods.
Reaves tripped Adam Lowry early in the third period, but the Jets did not convert on the ensuing advantage in the only penalty called in the game’s final frame.
Neither team found the back of the twine as the Golden Knights frantically searched for a way to score two goals to tie the game, having pulled their goaltender with about 2:35 remaining in regulation.
Gerard Gallant used his team’s only timeout at the next stoppage in play to try to draw up a plan, but Vegas’s best efforts were no match for Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets, despite Winnipeg’s inability to land a shot in the empty net.
At the final horn the Jets had won, 4-2, and jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in sheer dominance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (26-21), blocked shots (22-10), hits (33-30), giveaways (14-11), and faceoff win percentage (56-44). Both teams went .500 on the power play as the Jets went 2/4 and Vegas went 1/2 on the man advantage.
Game 2 is Monday night in Winnipeg, where the Bell MTS Centre crowd looks to energize their team to a 2-0 series lead. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.