Tag Archives: Joel Armia

Habs end B’s winning streak at six, beat Boston, 5-4

The Montreal Canadiens eked out a, 5-4, win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Bell Centre thanks to an overturned goal in the third period– snapping Boston’s six-game win streak in the process.

Goaltending was optional as Montreal’s Carey Price (7-4-1 record, 2.75 goals against average, .883 save percentage in 12 games played) made 21 saves on 25 shots against for an .840 SV% in the win.

Meanwhile, Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (7-1-1, 1.88 GAA, .936 SV% in nine games played), stopped 26 out of 31 shots faced for an .839 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 11-2-2 (24 points) on the season, but remained in control of 1st place in the Atlantic Division, while the Canadiens improved to 8-5-2 (18 points) and tied the Florida Panthers for 4th in the Atlantic in points (though the Panthers hold the tiebreaker, having played in one fewer game than Montreal).

Kevan Miller (knee) and John Moore (shoulder) have yet to debut this season for the Bruins as both missed their 15th game Tuesday night due to lingering injuries from last spring.

Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), Joakim Nordstrom (infection), Par Lindholm (upper body) and David Backes (upper body) were all still out against Montreal, with Lindholm as the latest Bruin to join the injured reserve prior to Tuesday’s matchup.

Despite sustaining a nasty cut in Monday night’s, 6-4, win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Charlie McAvoy was in the lineup against the Canadiens, as was Torey Krug (who caught a skate up high and drew some blood Monday night as well).

Zach Senyshyn was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) and inserted into the lineup on the right side of the third line with Anders Bjork and Charlie Coyle.

Senyshyn has three points (two goals, one assist) in 12 games with Providence this season and one goal in two career NHL games (made his NHL debut last season).

With Senyshyn entering the lineup, Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, bumped Brett Ritchie down to the fourth line right wing with Chris Wagner returning to the left side of Sean Kuraly.

After making his NHL debut against Pittsburgh on Monday, Cameron Hughes joined Steven Kampfer as Boston’s only healthy scratches on Tuesday.

B’s captain, Zdeno Chara, played in his 1,500th career game and became just the 21st player and sixth defender in league history to play in 1,500 or more games in their career.

Chara joined Chris Chelios (1,651 career games), Scott Stevens (1,635), Larry Murphy (1,615), Ray Bourque (1,612) and Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564) as the only defenders to play in 1,500 or more games.

Habs head coach, Claude Julien, reached the 1,200th game of his career behind the bench on Tuesday as well.

Julien won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and received an ovation from the Bell Centre crowd before Chara’s milestone was acknowledged at the following media timeout in the first period.

Victor Mete (2) kicked things off with a quick start for Montreal as the Canadiens defender jumped at the perfect opportunity to collect the game’s first goal after the puck deflected off of a teammate in front of the goal and rebounded into the low slot unattended.

Mete’s goal was assisted by Joel Armia (4) and Jeff Petry (7) at 1:13 of the first period and the Habs jumped ahead with the, 1-0, lead.

Late in the period, Mete hooked Senyshyn and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction at 14:49 of the first period.

Boston only needed six seconds on the power play for Patrice Bergeron to win the faceoff back to Krug, then slide the puck over to David Pastrnak (15) for the one-timer slap shot power play goal.

Krug (10) and Bergeron (9) tallied the assists as the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, at 14:55.

With the goal, Pastrnak extended his current point streak to 13 games– setting a new career-high in the process. He also became the first Bruin to score 15 goals in their first 15 games of the season since Peter McNab did so in 1976-77.

A couple of minutes later, Tomas Tatar (5) sent a shot off of Rask’s glove and into the twine to put the Canadiens ahead, 2-1.

Brendan Gallagher (6) and Ben Chiarot (2) had the assists on Tatar’s goal at 16:45.

Less than a minute after retaking the lead, Montreal extended their lead to two goals as Paul Byron (1) barely kept the puck in the attacking zone and succeeded on an individual effort– sending a shot through Rask’s five-hole– for his first goal of the season.

Byron’s goal was unassisted at 17:16 of the first period and the Habs led, 3-1.

Entering the first intermission, Montreal led Boston, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The Canadiens also held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3), while the Bruins led in giveaways (10-9), hits (12-11) and faceoff win percentage (67-33).

Both teams had two takeaways aside and the B’s were 1/1 on the power play, while the Habs had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Less than a minute into the middle frame, Bergeron hooked Phillip Danault and presented the Canadiens with a power play 50 seconds into the second period.

Boston killed Bergeron’s minor infraction without any issue, but followed up the special teams action with another hooking infraction– this time for Pastrnak against Shea Weber at 3:58.

Montreal didn’t capitalize on the ensuing skater advantage.

Almost midway through the period, Ryan Poehling blocked a shot by Krug that rocketed off of the side of Poehling’s helmet, sending the Montreal forward to the ice before the whistle was blown for the injured skater to head down the tunnel under his own power.

While Poehling went down with an injury, so did Petry as the Canadiens defender caught the ice in an awkward manor with his leg.

Petry returned from the dressing room shortly thereafter and had no issues. Poehling returned to the action too without any major damage.

Connor Clifton (1) walzted around two Canadiens players, held the puck and sniped a shot over Price’s glove while Coyle screened the Montreal goaltender at 7:17 of the second period, bringing the Bruins to within one goal.

Clifton’s unassisted effort cut Montreal’s lead to, 3-2, and was his first career regular season NHL goal in just his 32nd career game.

Late in the period, Bjork (2) slid a rebound under Price’s pad from point blank to tie the game, 3-3.

McAvoy (4) had the only assist on the goal at 18:13, but the game wouldn’t remain tied for long.

Almost 40 seconds later, Mete (3) tucked in his 2nd goal of the ngiht with a shot from the point that floated over Rask, top-shelf, as Chara bumped Montreal center, Nate Thompson, into the Boston goaltender.

Artturi Lehkonen (4) and Petry (8) collected the assists on Mete’s goal at 18:55 and the Canadiens regained the lead, 4-3.

Through 40 minutes of action in Montreal, the Habs led the B’s, 4-3, on the scoreboard and, 25-15, in shots on goal (including a, 12-9, advantage for Montreal in the second period alone).

The Canadiens also led in blocked shots (14-7) and takeaways (7-5), while the Bruins led in giveaways (16-15), hits (25-22) and faceoff win% (62-38) entering the second intermission.

Montreal was 0/2 and Boston was still 1/1 on the power play heading into the third period.

Weber caught Brad Marchand with a high stick 14 seconds into the third period and was sent to the sin bin for a minor penalty, but the Bruins weren’t able to capitalize on the ensuing power play.

Instead, in the vulnerable minute after special teams action, Boston’s fourth line went to work with Wagner dishing a quick pass to Kuraly (1) for the fourth line center to bank the puck off of Price’s skate and into the net– tying the game, 4-4, at 3:03 of the third period.

Wagner (4) had the only assist on the goal and the B’s had momentum on their side.

Moments later, after Coyle thought he had scored by redirecting a pass from Senyshyn through Price’s five-hole while the Habs goaltender was without his stick, Julien used his coach’s challenge arguing that the Bruins had originally entered the zone offside.

After review, it was determined that Coyle had just barely entered the zone by about half a skate ahead of the puck and was offside prior to the play that led to the goal and the call on the ice was overturned at 5:23.

Instead of rallying against the overturned call, Boston went into a hole and found themselves clamoring towards the end of games in back-to-back nights.

Chiarot (2) sent a shot of Rask’s glove and into the back of the net to give the Canadiens the lead once more, 5-4, at 9:06 of the third period after Montreal sustained tremendous pressure in the attacking zone.

Weber (8) and Tatar (8) each had an assist on the game-winning goal as the Canadiens never looked back for the remaining half-a-period.

After Boston iced the puck with 58.5 seconds remaining, Julien used his timeout to rally his attackers for one last push for a goal before the Bruins could pull their goaltender for an extra skater.

Neither team could score as time expired and the final horn sounded at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens had finished Boston’s six-game winning streak with a, 5-4, victory on home ice.

Montreal wrapped up Tuesday night’s contest leading in shots on goal (31-25), blocked shots (27-11) and giveaways (24-19), while Boston led in shots on net in the third period alone (10-6), hits (36-31) and faceoff win% (60-40).

The Canadiens went 0/2 on the power play and the B’s finished the game 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Boston is now 4-2-1 on the road this season and 1-1-1 when trailing after two periods.

The Bruins face the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at Little Caesars Arena. Boston returns home on Nov. 10th for a two-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers (Nov. 10th) and Florida (Nov. 12th).

Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 Season Preview

Montreal Canadiens

44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Riley Barber, F Nick Cousins, F Phil Varone, D Ben Chiarot, G Keith Kinkaid

Subtractions: F Daniel Audette (signed with Springfield, AHL), F Nicolas Deslauriers (traded to ANA), F Andrew Shaw (traded to CHI), F Hunter Shinkaruk (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Jordie Benn (signed with VAN), D Brett Lernout (signed with VGK), G Antti Niemi (KHL)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Charles Hudon, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael McCarron

Offseason Analysis: The Montreal Canadiens didn’t even get a meeting with John Tavares last offseason and they tried to ask out a couple of potential suitors to the prom this offseason, but were ultimately rejected.

Before Habs fans try to claim that technically Sebastian Aho accepted their offer, but was then taken back by his… still current romantic partner (Carolina), let’s remember that this is only a terrible attempt at a metaphor or whatever.

The bottom line is Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, wanted to get Matt Duchene in free agency this offseason, but lost out to the Nashville Predators– which was inevitable given Duchene was building a house in Nashville anyway.

Then Bergevin turned to his next option– becoming the “villain” among his peers by submitting an offer sheet to another team’s restricted free agent.

That RFA happened to be Aho, the Carolina Hurricanes forward who remains a Carolina Hurricanes forward after signing a five-year, $8.454 million per season offer sheet from the Habs that was officially matched by the Canes about a week later.

If Bergevin was really comfortable with paying a steep compensation price, he likely offered more in cap hit, length of the deal and, well, just about everything else.

Instead, Carolina wasn’t fazed by the $8.454 million annual cap hit, despite a little more than $21 million front loaded in the deal in signing bonuses and Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, simply wrote a cheque for Aho to cash in and avoid a long offseason of “uncertainty” as many other RFAs faced around the league.

While Bergevin may have done the Hurricanes a favor, Tampa Bay Lightning center, Brayden Point is still unsigned, so…

Actually, on second thought, Montreal only has about $4.045 million in cap space now since missing out on Aho and signing defender, Ben Chiarot, to a consolation prize, three-year, $3.500 million per season contract.

It’s not that Chiarot isn’t a durable defender, but rather, that the Canadiens really could use a young, promising forward to shore up a legitimate top-six– especially with pending-RFA Max Domi in a contract year.

Montreal wants to get back into the postseason, but they don’t just want to make it– they want to make a splash and go on a deep run. Especially since they’re the most recent Canadian team to win the Cup, having done so in 1993, which seems like ages ago, right?

Seven teams have joined the league since a Canadian market last hoisted the Cup high above their heads in a celebratory skate.

Head coach, Claude Julien, transitioned his style from a more veteran dependent coaching style to a more contemporary “play the kids” approach last season and it got Montreal to finish two points outside of the playoffs thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ defeat of the New York Rangers in the last weekend of the regular season.

The good news for Julien? His roster is about the same, so there’s a lot of familiarity in the room in their quest for progress.

Keith Kinkaid signed a one-year, $1.750 million deal to backup Carey Price this season and can be useful in offsetting Price’s workload, though Kinkaid’s looking to bounce back from a dismal year with the New Jersey Devils last season.

Kinkaid amassed a 3.36 goals against average and an .891 save percentage in 41 games played while New Jersey transitioned from Cory Schneider to Mackenzie Blackwood (when healthy) in the crease as their starter.

One thing’s for sure for the Habs this season– if they don’t make it back to the playoffs in 2020, there’s going to be some change coming.

There just has to be.

Offseason Grade: C

Nothing spectacular walked into Bell Centre in the offseason and nothing spectacular walked out. That’s not terrible, but might not be up to the expectations of a fanbase and front office that expects to win every season.

That said, Montreal is due for a resurgence in the standings sooner, rather than later. It’s just going to take a little more work than… whatever was done this offseason.

The Price is right for a 3-0 shutout by the Habs over the B’s

Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens shutout the Boston Bruins, 3-0, Saturday night at TD Garden. Price (4-1-2, 2.13 goals against average, .922 save percentage in seven games this season) made 33 saves in the win, while Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi and Jordie Benn each had a goal in the victory.

Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (3-3-0, 3.15 GAA, .902 SV% in six GP this season), stopped 20 out of 22 shots faced for a .909 SV% Saturday night in the loss.

The win moved Price past Patrick Roy for 2nd place all-time in wins for the Canadiens as Price now has 290 to Roy’s 289 career wins with Montreal. Jacques Plante is 1st in franchise history for the Habs with 314 wins.

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Another fun fact, Price leads Montreal all-time in losses with 202 currently. He’s been their starting netminder since the 2007-08 season and is in his 12th career NHL season. Ken Dryden and Plante had shorter careers with Montreal than Price and Roy, while Roy spent 1985-96 with the Canadiens before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.

As a result, Roy ranks 2nd all-time in losses as a Hab with 175, while Jose Theodore is 3rd with 158 losses as a Canadien.

Had Roy not been traded to the Avalanche in the 1995-96 season, who knows what might’ve happened.

As a result of Saturday’s loss, the Bruins fell to 6-3-2 (14 points) on the season– dropping to 4th in the Atlantic Division thanks to, you guessed it, the now 6-2-2 (14 points) overall Montreal Canadiens. Montreal has played 10 games thus far, while Boston has played in 11, yielding a one-game in-hand advantage for the Canadiens in the standings.

Bruce Cassidy made two minor moves in his lineup for Boston, moving Anders Bjork to the right side of Joakim Nordstrom on the third line and swapping Chris Wagner and Ryan Donato on the left side of the third and fourth line.

Wagner was bumped to the left side of Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari, while Donato fit in with Nordstrom and Bjork.

Torey Krug is expected to return to the lineup next week, as Cassidy indicated prior to Saturday’s matchup, while David Backes, Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen and Kevan Miller remain injured.

Early in the first period, David Pastrnak was guilty of slashing Canadiens defender, Xavier Ouellet, at 4:42. Montreal did not convert on the ensuing power play, but momentum began to swing in their favor.

Moments later, the Habs were first on the scoreboard and they’d remain the only ones on the scoreboard.

Brendan Gallagher (6) spun away from Acciari, then cut to the inside to fully free himself from entrapment and found an opening under the glove of Rask to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead 9:18 into the first period.

Matthew Peca (3) and Ouellet (3) picked up the tab on the primary and secondary assists on Gallagher’s goal.

Just 1:21 later, Max Domi (5) made it 2-0, Montreal, after an aerial pass sent Artturi Lehkonen into the zone, with Boston’s defense collapsing and a few quality rebound chances leading up to Domi’s goal.

Jonathan Drouin (5) and Lehkonen (6) had the assists on Domi’s goal at 10:39 of the first period.

Less than five minutes later, Peca cut a rut to the penalty box for tripping Bjork at 15:24 of the opening frame. Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the evening.

After 20 minutes of play, the Canadiens led, 2-0. Montreal also had the advantage in shots on goal (9-7), takeaways (7-2), giveaways (6-1) and hits (14-9), while Boston led in face-off win percentage (53-47). Blocked shots were even, 2-2, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the dressing room for the first intermission.

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Early in the second period, the Bruins thought they had gotten on the scoreboard and cut Montreal’s lead in half with a goal by Donato, however, former Bruins bench boss and current Canadiens head coach, Claude Julien, used his coach’s challenge to get the call on the ice rightfully overturned after review.

The Bruins had entered the zone offside prior to Donato’s would-be goal, hence the call on the ice being overturned and the score remaining, 2-0, Montreal.

Past the midway-point of the second frame, B’s defender Brandon Carlo caught Drouin with a stick up high and was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking at 12:30 of the second period.

Through two periods of play, the Canadiens held onto a 2-0 lead and shots on goal were even (19-19) as were blocked shots (5-5). Montreal led in takeaways (10-8), giveaways (9-3), hits (23-17) and face-off win% (53-47). Entering the second intermission, the Habs were 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston was still 0/1.

Joel Armia kicked off the action in the third period by tripping Donato and being sent to the penalty box at 5:10.

While on the power play, Rask caught Paul Byron behind the net and promptly tripped the Canadiens forward, sending Donato to the box to serve the Bruins netminder’s minor infraction for tripping.

About two minutes later, Drouin and Brad Marchand were tangled up in an altercation after Drouin was going to be penalized for interference. Marchand received a roughing penalty and both sides sent a skater to the box for 4-on-4 action at 8:07 of the third period.

While the Bruins continued to fire shots at Price, eventually taking the lead in shots on goal, they weren’t nearly of any challenging, quality, caliber.

Nicolas Deslauriers hooked David Krejci at 12:30 of the third period and the Bruins went on the power play once again. They did not score. By now, you should definitely remember the first sentence in this recap mentioned the Canadiens shutout the Bruins on Saturday.

Cassidy pulled his goaltender with 2:59 remaining in regulation for an extra skater. It didn’t go as planned, even after Boston used their timeout after a stoppage with 1:25 left in the game and an offensive zone face-off.

Using physics and trick shots he learned by playing pool (I’m assuming), Jordie Benn (1) banked an indirect shot off the boards and into the empty net in for the insurance empty net goal.

Montreal led 3-0 as Lehkonen (7) picked up his second assist of the night on Benn’s first goal of the season at 19:31 of the third period.

At the final horn the Canadiens sealed the victory with the advantage in blocked shots (12-8), giveaways (14-7), hits (28-20) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins lost, 3-0, despite outshooting the Habs, 33-23. Both teams finished the night 0/3 on the power play.

Price picked up his first shutout against the B’s since February 8, 2016 in the most shots he’s faced so far this season (33).

The Bruins travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for Tuesday’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes before visiting the Nashville Predators on Nov. 3rd. to wrap up a quick two-game road trip.

Among other stats from Saturday’s loss…

Boston’s first line of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, as well as defender Matt Grzelcyk were each minus-two in the plus/minus category. Pastrnak led the B’s in shots on goal with six, while Bergeron had the next highest total with four.

John Moore and Jake DeBrusk led Boston in hits with three apiece, while Bjork led his teammates in blocked shots with two.

Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen was a plus-two and his teammates Gallagher and Byron led the Habs in shots on goal with three shots on net each.

Deslauriers and Karl Alzner had five hits, leading the Canadiens in that category, while Ouellet led the Habs in blocked shots with three.

Montreal Canadiens 2018-19 Season Preview

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Montreal Canadiens

29-40-13, 71 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division

Additions: F Kenny Agostino, F Joel Armia (acquired from WPG), F Michael Chaput, F Max Domi (acquired from ARI), D Xavier Ouellet, F Matthew Peca, F Tomas Plekanec, F Hunter Shinkaruk (acquired from CGY)

Subtractions: D Simon Bourque (traded to WPG), F Daniel Carr (signed with VGK), F Adam Cracknell (signed with TOR), F Markus Eisenschmid (signed, DEL), G Zach Fucale (signed with VGK), F Alex Galchenyuk (traded to ARI), F Jeremy Gregoire (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), G Steve Mason (acquired from WPG, buyout), F Joonas Nattinen (signed, KHL), D Tom Parisi (signed, Great Britain), F Kerby Rychel (traded to CGY), F Chris Terry (signed with DET)

Still Unsigned: F Ales Hemsky, F Michael McCarron, F Logan Shaw

Re-signed: F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose

Offseason Analysis: They didn’t get Jeff Skinner, so now what?

The Montreal Canadiens 2018-19 regular season campaign can’t be much worse than 2017-18. While the Buffalo Sabres are sure to climb out of eighth in the Atlantic Division, at least the Ottawa Senators will more than likely be the foundation of the division standings come April.

Claude Julien‘s Canadiens had the third worst goal differential (a minus-55) in the league last season and with uncertainty surrounding Max Pacioretty‘s future in Montreal, well, that’s about to get worse. No amount of a healthy Carey Price can save the Canadiens porous defense, especially with star defender Shea Weber sidelined due to injury for at least a couple months.

General Manager Marc Bergevin made a little splash in the trade market this offseason, sending Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi. While Domi brings grit to the Canadiens lineup, so does Andrew Shaw— just without the scoring power.

Wait, Galchenyuk had six more points (19-32–51 totals in 82 GP for MTL) than Domi (9-36–45 in 82 GP for ARI) last season? And that was a “bad” year?

Domi emerged onto the NHL spotlight with an 18-goal season in 2015-16 (81 GP). Injuries limited the young forward to just 59 games in 2016-17, a season in which he amassed 9-29–38 totals. In 23 more games from 2016-17 to 2017-18, Domi had seven more points.

Meanwhile, Galchenyuk has reached the 40-point plateau for the last four seasons– including two 50-plus point seasons.

Bergevin is gambling on Domi to return to form– and then some– but the question remains ever present– how long can these Bergevin gambles go on in Canada’s most prestigious club de hockey?

Joel Armia, Matthew Peca and Xavier Ouellet are sneaky pickups by the Habs that may lead to improved depth, depth and a make-or-break season (for whatever reason), respectively.

The ceremonious return of Tomas Plekanec to the franchise may at least bring back something right to the universe– a Plekanec goatee and turtleneck combo, unlike his short tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs in which Lou Lamoriello’s oppressive regime on facial hair wrought havoc on the hockey universe.

In all seriousness, though, Julien’s time in Montreal may be limited if the front office is looking for someone else to blame other than themselves for their colossal collapse the last few seasons. No amount of Jesperi Kotkaniemi (another gamble at 3rd overall in this year’s Draft) can make up for the inevitable– another long season for Habs fans.

Offseason Grade: D

Like the Ottawa Senators and Erik Karlsson, Montreal really should be receiving an “incomplete” grade until the Max Pacioretty situation is resolved. However, unlike the Sens, the Habs at least added some marginal talent in Max Domi this offseason (albeit at the expense of Alex Galchenyuk) compared to Ottawa’s… well, let’s not compare those two clubs by themselves, shall we?

The Canadiens are like that guy in your class that has a 65 and is technically still passing the class. You know the school year won’t be great for that guy and you also know things could be worse, but they just can’t no matter how hard he tries (or doesn’t try?) because someone is always doing a little bit worse.

Claude Julien is still a good coach, sure, but his system is becoming outdated for the contemporary game. Also, his last Cup win came outside of my “great coach” status (basically, you’re only a “great coach” if you’ve won a Cup within the last five seasons– you’re at the top of the game among the rest– until you retire, then you can lean back on your trophy case all you want to stack up), but that’s a hill worth dying on another day.

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

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The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

Jets land Golden Knights a loss in WCF Game 1

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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.

Mark Scheifele (6) and Blake Wheeler (13) had the assists on the goal that was made possible thanks to a turnover in Vegas’s attacking zone.

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.

Jets fly away with 6-2 win in Nashville, can clinch spot in WCF at home

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Snubbed for Calder Memorial Trophy consideration, rookie, Kyle Connor had his first career three-point Stanley Cup Playoff game en route to a 6-2 victory for the Winnipeg Jets on the road in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators.

The Jets silenced the Bridgestone Arena crowd and can clinch a spot in the 2018 Western Conference Finals with a win on home ice in Game 6.

Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 38 out of 40 shots on goal for a .950 save percentage in the win, while Pekka Rinne made 20 saves on 26 shots against for a .769 SV% in 46:23 time on ice before being replaced by Juuse Saros.

Saros made six saves on all six shots against in 13:37 TOI in his relief appearance.

There were no goals and no penalties in the first period, so the only thing you’ll need to know after 20 minutes of action in Game 5 is that the Predators outshot the Jets, 11-7.

Almost midway through the second period, Patrik Laine ripped a wrist shot towards the goal and the puck deflected off of Paul Stastny’s hand past Rinne to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead. Stastny (4) was rightfully credited with the goal upon validation that he did not intentionally swat the puck in with his hand or anything.

Laine (6) and Nikolaj Ehlers (4) notched the assists on the goal at 7:44 of the second period.

Less than four minutes later, Nashville defender, Yannick Weber (1) crept in from the point, straight to the goal and elevated a shot past Hellebuyck to tie the game, 1-1.

About a minute and a half later, Kyle Connor (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Blake Wheeler (8) and Mark Scheifele (5) amassed the assists on Connor’s goal at 12:30 and the Jets had a one-goal lead, 2-1.

Dustin Byfuglien (4) extended Winnipeg’s lead to two-goals as the Jets blueliner continues to make his offensive prowess known a la his 2010 Stanley Cup run with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brandon Tanev (1) and Adam Lowry (2) had the assists on Byfuglien’s goal at 14:35 of the second period.

Just as quick as the Predators reemerged as a team that’s capable of going stride for stride with Winnipeg’s youth, the Jets surged in momentum and Connor (2) netted his second goal of the night— assisted by Wheeler (9) and Byfuglien (8)— to make it a 4-1 game late in the second frame at 17:01.

It only took 22 seconds later for the first penalty to be called— Viktor Arvidsson for slashing Jacob Trouba— and the Jets went on their first power play of the night.

Things didn’t go according to plan as Ryan Johansen (5) broke free on a shorthanded bid and buried one behind Hellebuyck to bring the Preds back to within two, 4-2, at 17:59 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in command of the scoreboard and leading in shots on goal, 22-20.

Mark Scheifele (9) all but put things away 28 seconds into the third period with his goal that made it, 5-2, Winnipeg. Connor (4) and Wheeler (10) notched the assists and the Predators had their backs against the wall.

Josh Morrissey handed Nashville their first power play of the night at 2:52 of the third period for holding the stick of Filip Forsberg, but the Predators would not score on the skater advantage.

Instead, frustrated by their own lack of offense and ability to control the pace of the game in possession and the like, Ryan Hartman took a careless interference minor after the young Predators forward delivered a check to Scheifele, far away from the puck.

Mathieu Perreault (1) collected his first goal of the postseason on the ensuing power play at 6:23 of the third period, burying the carom off the boards and putting the game out of reach with a four-goal lead for the Jets, 6-2.

Ehlers (5) had the only assist on the goal.

To put a stop to the bleeding, Peter Laviolette replaced his starter with backup, Juuse Saros.

Mattias Ekholm cross checked Joel Armia almost halfway through the third period and the Jets did not score on the power play.

At the final horn, Winnipeg had secured a 6-2 victory and 3-2 series lead heading back home for Game 6 at Bell MTS Place. The Predators led Game 5 in shots on goal (40-32), blocked shots (20-16), giveaways (21-10) and faceoff win percentage (59-41), while the Jets had an advantage in hits (27-23).

Winnipeg finished the night 1/3 on the power play and the Preds went 0/1.

With his three-point night (2-1–3 totals), Kyle Connor set a franchise record for the first three-point effort in a postseason game by a rookie in Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history.

Puck drop for Game 6 in Winnipeg is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET and game coverage will be on NBCSN in the United States, as well as CBC and TVAS across Canada. The Jets can advance to the Western Conference Final with a win.

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

True North Stronger: Jets edge Wild to open series; win first-ever playoff game

 

For those expecting this to be a one-sided series, Game 1 would like to have a word with you.

On the opening night of the 2018 NHL Playoffs (also known as the most wonderful time of the year) the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets treated us to exactly what we expect from playoff hockey: a hard-hitting, fast-paced, raucous affair with something for everyone.

In the end, it would be Winnipeg firing the opening salvo in the series, treating the thundering crowd at Bell MTS Place to the first playoff victory in franchise history. What a victory it was.

The city of Winnipeg hosted its first playoff series Game 1 since 1985 (insert joke about how many current players weren’t even alive) and they did not disappoint. The legendary Winnipeg Whiteout was as incredible a sight as ever, there may have been more people filling the downtown streets around the arena than there were in the arena (it’s a small venue joke and also a legitimate observation), and the Jets took the ice to an earth-shaking ovation. Pregame festivities were actually slightly delayed by a crowd that simply refused to cease their chant of ‘Go Jets Go!”

For Minnesota, the uphill battle was obvious. On the wrong end of some heavy betting odds, missing top defenseman Ryan Suter (28+ minutes of ice time suddenly unaccounted for), and likely unable to hear themselves think, the Wild’s gameplan was to hopefully control the pace and take the crowd out of it.

That did not go well in the early minutes.

Winnipeg came out flying. After buzzing offensively for the first couple minutes, they turned their focus to their other greatest weapon: Physicality. First it was a booming open ice hit on Daniel Winnik by Ben Chiarot. On the very next shift, Brandon Tanev stapled Eric Staal to the boards at one end, then linemate Adam Lowry crushed Jared Spurgeon (in his first game back from injury) at the opposite end.

Lowry was a standout in this game. He and Tanev combined for multiple quality scoring chances, and he played most of the game with the apparent mindset that if it was wearing white, it needed to die. He did leave the ice with about 50 seconds left in the first period, but returned for the second and played the rest of the game without issue. If Minnesota wants to change their fortunes (and potentially save the lives of some of their players) going forward, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize #17.

Potentially as a result of Lowry’s play, the first tv timeout was extended due to some maintenance on a pane of glass in the Minnesota end. After play resumed it was all Winnipeg for the rest of the period. If not for stellar play by Devan Dubnyk (including a spectacular robbery of Andrew Copp after he picked up a deflected point shot at the side of the net) and a great effort by Minnesota to keep most of the chances to the outside, the score could have been out of hand within the first 20 minutes.

My personal highlight of the first was Dubnyk snagging a left wing shot in his glove, before delivering a beautiful Booker T-esque spinebuster to a net-crashing Mathieu Perreault. Not much came of it, but it looked awesome and Dubnyk talking to the referee and very visibly laughing was terrific.

The shot clock read 13-4, but the scoreboard said 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Things picked up slightly in the second, as just 20 seconds in it would be Eric Staal taking the game’s first penalty (a trip on Mark Scheifele). The power play was mostly uneventful, but did include a shorthanded bid by Joel Eriksson Ek that was first negated by Patrik Laine, before ‘J.E.E.’ was absolutely obliterated by a backchecking Dustin Byfuglien.

After the power play it was Hellebucyk’s turn to save his team’s skin, as a terrible giveaway by Jacob Trouba behind his own net gave the Wild essentially a stationary 2-on-0, that luckily the Winnipeg goaltender was able to negate with a blocker save. Eriksson Ek would get another breakaway opportunity, this time avoiding being murdered by Big Buff, but would not find paydirt. The puck then went the other way and saw Kyle Connor unleash a beautiful toe-drag wrist shot from the high slot only to have Dubnyk windmill his hopes and dreams.

Just when it was starting to really look like we would see another scoreless period, Winnipeg would repeat a play they had tried on their previous power play to no avail and find success, with Mark Scheifele taking a sneaky centering feed from Blake Wheeler and ripping a one-timer past Dubnyk to finally break through with 2:23 to play.

Ironically, the Wild would outshoot the Jets in the 2nd, but find themselves trailing 1-0. But Winnipeg found itself down by one in its own right, having lost Mathieu Perreault to an upper body injury, after the diminutive centerman seemed to be the focus of some physical play throughout the period. After taking a huge open ice hit from Mikko Koivu, a tie-up and subsequent body slam from Nick Seeler seemed to be the final blow to end Perreault’s night.

After two periods of goaltenders stealing the show and solid defensive work, the doors got blown wide open in the third.

It started off the opening draw, with Winnipeg executing a perfect set play to spring Connor on a breakaway only to be denied by Dubnyk. The Wild quickly turned the tables, however, as less than two minutes into the frame it would be rookie Jordan Greenway tallying his first ever playoff point in his first ever playoff game by feeding three-time Cup winner and oldest man in the playoffs Matt Cullen for a beautiful one-timer over the shoulder of Hellebucyk to tie the game at one.

A two-minute track meet ensued, before a bad pinch by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Mikko Koivu (who got blown up by Lowry just as he chipped the breakout pass ahead) to feed Mikael Granlund to lead a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise. Granlund showed shot all the way, before feeding a pass to Parise’s stick at the last possible instant for a back-door tap-in to complete the two-goal swing and give Minnesota the lead just over two minutes after tying the game.

The once-booming Winnipeg crowd fell silent. Briefly.

Then Paul Stastny left a drop pass for Patrik Laine just inside the blueline and the 19-year-old phenom ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Dubnyk simply couldn’t catch up to. 2-2, just like that, less than a minute after the second Wild goal.

On the very next shift it looked like Winnipeg was going to take the lead right back, as Joel Armia took the puck on a cross-ice feed and got robbed blind by Dubnyk. The puck squeaked behind the Minnesota goaltender, but his teammates piled on to make sure it couldn’t find the promised land, and a big scrum followed.

The Jets would fire 15 consecutive shots on net after the second Minnesota goal, dominating most of the third period. Then with just over seven minutes left in the game, Joe Morrow would net his first ever playoff goal (and first career game-winner of any kind) with a blast from the point that deflected off of a Minnesota stick and fooled Dubnyk.

Hellebucyk and his teammates would fend off the Minnesota attack for the final minutes, including stops on a beautiful rush by Koivu, and a combined effort from Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker to hold the fort and secure the 3-2 victory.

Minnesota has nothing to hang its head about, however. It gave a fired-up, heavily-favored Winnipeg team all it could handle, and Dubnyk showed the kind of form that can steal some games. Throw in the abundant physicality, and we’ve got ourselves a very entertaining under-the-radar series to watch.

Speaking of which, Game 2 will come to you Friday at 7:30pm Eastern on USA Network, SN and TVAS2. If you happen to miss it, though, do not fret. Our very own @kephartc will have a recap for you.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.