It’s hard to imagine a better start to the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Winnipeg Jets.
The 8th seed in the Western Conference went into Las Vegas Tuesday night and outplayed the Golden Knights from start to finish en route to a 5-1 Game 1 victory.
It might have been the Jets best all-around game all season long as they jumped out to a two-goal lead in the second period, before clamping it down defensively. And for the most part, they limited the Golden Knights scoring opportunities the rest of the way.
“Right from the hop, I think we stuck with our game,” said Jets forward Kyle Connor. “Yeah, they had some pushes. They got one there on us, but we never wavered. We knew they were gonna have some kind of push at some point.
“I thought our PK (penalty kill) was awesome tonight too. And I think all four lines (for) 60 (minutes) contributed tonight for sure.”
Adam Lowry scored twice in the victory, while Blake Wheeler had a goal and two assists. Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois notched the other markers for Winnipeg.
The Jets limited the Golden Knights to just 17 shots on goal and held Vegas to just two shots in the final frame.
Special teams were key for the Jets who scored one power play goal, while going a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in the series opener.
“It was huge for us to get all three kills tonight,” said Lowry. “Especially with the last kill, we didn’t really give them any looks. We were taking away their lanes, causing some turnovers. So we’ll just have to be ready for some adjustments that they’ll probably make.”
Jets forward Morgan Barron had to leave the game temporarily in the first period after he was cut by a skate near his eye.
“I was trying to figure out if the puck went in,” said Barron. “Obviously, I kinda saw the skate coming. Just an unlucky play I think. A little bit unfortunate, but I think the first thought that was that I could just see out of the eye, so that was the main thing.”
According to the broadcast, Barron received around 75 stitches before he returned to the game wearing a full cage in the second period.
“It looked like he got attacked by a shark to be honest,” said Lowry. “It’s a scary thing. I think we’re all so worried about the puck crossing the line and all of a sudden we see a trail of blood basically from the crease all the way to the bench. You don’t know what happened.
“Seeing the replay and hearing about it in the intermission and kinda hearing the number of stitches that he was getting. I thought they said 15 not 50-plus, so to sit on the table, get stitched up, and miss basically an hour of action, and then come back, speaks volumes to his heart.”
JETS WIN! JETS WIN!
We’re taking you LIVE to postgame interviews with players and head coach Rick Bowness following game one vs the Golden Knights! https://t.co/m2324iDw8d
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) April 19, 2023
Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers missed Game 1 with an upper-body injury despite declaring himself good-to-go previously.
“There wasn’t necessarily a setback, but nor was there the progress that we had hoped,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We’re not gonna put a player on the ice that is not at least close to 100 per cent and put him in a vulnerable position where he could have a setback.
“It’ll be the same thing on the Thursday. 48 hours, a lot can change, but we’ll certainly make the right call to protect the player if he’s not where we need him to be. I know he wants to play, and I think that’s what was misleading to everyone.
“But medically he was not ready to play.”
Neither side was able to find the back of the net in the opening 20 minutes, but the Jets came close several times.
Just ahead of the midway point of the period, a Barron from the slot was sent on goal towards Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit, the former Jet making his first playoff start.
The puck trickled through Brossoit and out to the side of the net where Mason Appleton couldn’t stuff it home, setting off a massive dogpile in the crease but the puck managed to stay out of the net.
Amidst the mad scramble, Barron’s face was cut by the blade of one of Brossoit’s skates, sending him off the ice in need of repairs. Over 75 stitches were needed to close the wound before Barron returned with a full facemask roughly six-and-a-half minutes into the second.
Winnipeg also had a pair of power plays in the first but could not cash in on either attempt. Connor Hellebuyck also had to make some solid saves, but no doubt the Jets were the better team, carrying a 14-7 edge in shots on goal into the middle frame.
The Jets finally found the back of the net just 1:24 into the second when Dubois carried the puck along the boards into the Vegas end before he found a wide open Connor in the slot. The Jets winger blasted it through Brossoit to open the scoring.
Only 62 seconds later, Dubois doubled the lead when he hopped off the bench, collected a loose puck at centre ice and flew into the Vegas end before wiring a wrister over the blocker of Brossoit to make it 2-0.
Winnipeg continued to put pressure on the Golden Knights before Vegas started to turn momentum in their favour.
Vegas also whiffed on a pair of power plays in the second but at even strength they were able to cut into the Winnipeg lead at the 15:49 mark of the period.
Ivan Barbashev took the puck over the Jets blue line and waited a beat before saucing a perfect feed to a hard-charging William Karlsson, who snapped a perfect shot top shelf over the glove of Hellebuyck to inject life into what had been a quiet building.
But from the opening faceoff of the third period, the Jets were in charge.
Wheeler corralled a loose puck in the slot and fired a backhander that found its way through Brossoit at the 3:53 mark of the third to restore the two-goal lead.
Winnipeg did not dial back the pressure as they attempted to increase their advantage but couldn’t beat Brossoit before the door opened a crack when they took a too-many-men on the ice penalty with just over five minutes left.
The Vegas power play did nothing other than elicit boos from the home crowd over how ineffective it was.
The Knights pulled Brossoit with over 2:30 to go and managed to get one solid chance on Hellebuyck before Adam Lowry got free for an empty netter.
Lowry then added a power play goal with 19 seconds left to add to the final score.
Hellebuyck was not very busy on the night, stopping 16 of 17 shots as the Jets played an outstanding defensive game.
Brossoit was saddled with the loss after stopping 26 of 30 shots.
The Jets will look to stay in control Thursday when the series continues with Game 2 in Las Vegas. Puck drop is just after 9 p.m. with pregame coverage on 680 CJOB beginning at 6:30 p.m.
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