To the surprise of virtually no one, Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was not on board with the decision by head coach Paul Maurice to pull him just 11:59 into Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell MTS Place.
The move came after the reigning Vezina Trophy winner was beaten for three goals on six shots as Toronto regained the lead after the Jets had fought back from a pair of goals by Auston Matthews and Wayne Simmonds only 51 seconds apart in the opening 1:18.
“Well, it was a 3-2 game and I don’t think I should have been pulled. That’s as far as I’ll go on that,” is how Hellebuyck responded when asked about what turned out to be a very short night of work.
And when asked if he deals with a game like Thursday night a little differently now than earlier in his career, he said: “Maybe a little bit because I have more experience, but, like I said, I don’t think last game was an off game.”
“I felt fine in the net. I’m not going to lie and say I was A-plus material but I thought the game that I had was good enough to win,” said the NHL’s second-busiest netminder this season in terms of minutes played. “And it was only going to get better if I was given the opportunity to grow in that game.”
Maurice said because of the personalities involved — his own and Hellebuyck’s — a conversation about what took place would usually be far more beneficial the day after the night before, although the veteran bench boss admitted there would be the odd exception to that rule.
“I guess I would if I thought I really needed to get a message of hope — like, if you do it to a goaltender that’s not established, mentally strong, and you’re worried about where his psyche goes, you probably try to get to him as early as you can. I don’t spend any time worrying about Connor’s mental strength.”
Another major topic of discussion following Friday’s practice was growing concern — at least outside of the Jets organization — about the team not being able to stand up for itself, especially when the physicality, and nastiness, really ramps up in the playoffs.
That concern has stemmed from a series of recent events that included captain Blake Wheeler having to miss a career-high six games to recover from a concussion courtesy of an elbow to the face from Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk during a 4-3 win over the Senators on April 5.
A Zach Hyman high stick on Neal Pionk during the Jets’ 5-2 win in Toronto 10 days later earned the Leafs’ hard-nosed forward a maximum US$5,000 fine. And the angst of Jets nation was only further intensified when Adam Lowry had to leave Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury following a hit to the head from Toronto’s Alex Galchenyuk in the first period.
Maurice said Lowry was still undergoing some testing and there would not be an update on the veteran centre’s status until at least following the morning skate in advance of Saturday’s 6 p.m. rematch.
Over the course of the game, Josh Morrissey was run from behind by Nick Foligno and Joe Thornton was fined the maximum allowable US$3,017.24 for interfering with Mathieu Perreault, who took a hit to the side of the head. All of this occurred with little or no response from the Jets on the ice. Or Maurice off it.
“I’ve got lots of faith in our heart, character, chemistry and stick-to-itiveness,” he said. “We’re chasing a game, and we’re trying to win it. Guys get banged up; we’ll bang their guys up, they’ll bang our guys up. The game doesn’t turn on that where they’re not running us out of our building. The league can handle that stuff.”
Toronto forward Wayne Simmonds offered a different perspective on what took place. “”Every time we’ve played them they’ve tried to run us out of the building. We come back and we’re physical and we’re a dirty team? I don’t buy that. I just think we’re defending ourselves, playing physical hockey.”
Maurice saved his best response for last when he was asked if the Leafs have transformed into a dirty team.
“Uh, I don’t think so. I don’t feel that. The league has said they’re not, so we will abide by the league’s rulings. But they are a poorer team — with some fines. Probably they’d be looking at some part-time jobs now cause that’s gotta hurt.”
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