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ST. LOUIS — When Kevin Hayes fired a puck at Jordan Binnington in the first-period of Sunday’s game, it was notable for a couple reasons.
For one thing, it was his first shot of the series after being blanked in the opening two games. And secondly, it came while he was skating on the fourth line, in between Jack Roslovic and Mathieu Perreault.
Safe to say this is not what general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had in mind when he paid a big price to land Hayes at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers, sending a first-round draft pick and Brendan Lemieux the other way.
Heading into Game 3, Hayes only had points in seven of the 23 games he’s played this year. And the fact he’d dropped down in the lineup speaks volumes about his play.
After all, Hayes was supposed to be the second-line centre, as Bryan Little was deemed unfit for the position for a second straight trade deadline. And yet there was Little on the second line Sunday between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Prior to the game, Hayes admitted both he and his teammates need to pick it up. Hayes certainly did that Sunday. His third shot of the night was a huge one, as a seemingly harmless wrister from the blue line hit the skate of Alex Pietrangelo and beat Binnington to erase a 1-0 deficit just 4:57 into the second period.
That really got the Jets going, as they scored twice more before the midway mark of the middle frame and ultimately cruised to a 6-3 victory.
“The goalie has been playing great, so we just tried to get a greasy one. I threw it on net and, luckily, it went in,” said Hayes, who feels he took a big step in the right direction.
“I just had the puck a lot more. I challenged myself to have the puck tonight. The first two games were very average. I didn’t have the puck that much when I was on the ice. Tonight, I did.”
Hayes admits there was a sense of relief to beat Binnington in any fashion, let alone on one that won’t exactly make the highlight reel.
“He stood on his head again and he made some big saves and to get a greasy one like that kind of jumpstarted us and then we scored six,” Hayes said.
Some secondary scoring was also a much-welcome development.
“That’s what has been missing in the first two games. As a whole, we haven’t played bad games. We lost two, but we played the right way for most of the games and obviously lost. That’s not what you want to do. It’s nice to have everyone contribute. We stuck to our game plan, we got pucks behind their D and I’m sure we’ll do the same thing on Tuesday,” Hayes said.
Hayes won’t use it as an excuse, but it’s worth noting he was once again breaking in a couple new linemates Sunday, which has been the theme since joining the Jets. There’s been a rotating cast of characters on his wings, which must make it difficult to find consistency.
“For sure. I’m playing with some new guys and you just try to play the right way and do the right things. In the playoffs, you can’t really play too risky or the puck ends up in the back of your net. I’m hoping to help this team offensively as well,” he said prior to the game.
“This team has 12 good forwards. Every night you’re going to play with someone who brings something new to the table. You don’t pick and choose your linemates, the coach does that.”
Perreault drew the primary helper on Hayes’ goal, while Roslovic provided a solid screen.
Hayes was stapled to the bench for long stretches of Game 2, playing less than nine minutes. He was asked Sunday what that meant.
“I mean, I don’t really worry about that stuff. It’s out of my hands,” said Hayes, who played 11:15 Sunday.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t single Hayes out for blame prior to Sunday’s game, saying his move to another line wasn’t just an individual thing.
“Just matching skill sets with him. But, it’s not about Kevin, right? Or any one player. It’s about the group structure as well,” he said.
“But, he can use some sped on (his) wings, and he can certainly make some plays. So, we like to have some skill there to take advantage of that.”
The big play for Maurice was reuniting the TLC line of Brandon Tanev, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. He also kept the top line of Mark Scheifele between Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor intact.
Following the victory, Maurice said he liked what he saw from Hayes.
“I thought he was moving better, had the puck more. His winger helped that. He was driving, a little more physically involved in the game. He’s got a good set of hands on him. He gets up to speed, he can make plays in traffic and take pucks down the well. So that was a good step for him,” he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.