Jets look to go up 2-0 against Golden Knights
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — With the man responsible for bringing hockey to Winnipeg in the house, the Jets roared to a quick start and never let up en route to a 4-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night at Bell MTS Place.
They hope to continue their winning ways on Monday in Game 2 of the Western Conference final. This time, however, they’ll have to do it without Bobby Hull and his former teammates in the stands.
The Golden Jet, who was in town for a 40-year reunion of the 1977-78 Jets, signed with the World Hockey Association team in 1972 for a $1.75 million contract and a $1 million signing bonus. That was unprecedented money at the time. He ultimately teamed with Swedes Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg to form one of the most dominant lines of all time, the Hot Line, for four seasons.
The current edition of the Jets did their best Hot Line impersonation on Saturday, playing a fast, swirling, possession-focused game.
“They scored on the first shift and played real well,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant told reporters after the game. “We were chasing the game all night. They outworked us.”
Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t be faulted on any of the four goals that found the net behind him, but he’ll have to make some big saves to get in the Jets’ heads a little and give his team a chance.
Jets fans were quick to chant “We want Subban” after the first goal, referring to backup Malcolm, the younger brother of P.K. Subban, whose Nashville Predators were eliminated by the Jets in Game 7 on Thursday.
Fleury stopped 22 of 26 shots for a save percentage of .846, a far cry from the .951 he had compiled to that point. He has four shutouts up to this point, including one in each of the opening games of the previous two series against the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Jets coach Paul Maurice told reporters on Sunday that his team has the utmost confidence in their netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, who is playing in the first postseason of his career after a tumultuous 2016-17. He outdueled the odds-on favorite for the Vezina Trophy, Pekke Rinne, in the second round.
“Connor had a difficult year last year,” Maurice said. “Most of the conversation we had about it were how necessary it was (so he could learn) what it’s like to get pulled, what it’s like to play well and lose, what it’s like to feel the pressure in a Canadian market when there’s questions about the goaltending. He handled it.
“He’s mentally tough kid. He had a lot of internal confidence. All of the things he went through last year directly helped him mentally prepare for this year.”
Before this season, no NHL team in Winnipeg had advanced beyond the second round, and it only made it out of the first round on two occasions back in the 1980s.