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ST. LOUIS – It took them a little while to get warmed up, but once they did, the Winnipeg Jets looked every bit like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender Thursday night.
Three goals in 1:44 of the third period – and four in a 5:14 span – broke open a close game as the Jets pulled away with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.
It was just the kind of start Winnipeg was looking for, grinding out an impressive road win over a tough Central Division foe. And it was a much more memorable debut than last season, where Winnipeg was trounced 7-2 on home ice by Toronto.
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck picked up right where he left off following last year’s Vezina Trophy finalist season, stopping 41 of 42 shots he faced.
Patrik Laine recently said he’s not much of a pre-season player following four quiet, scoreless exhibition games, but he wasted no time making a mark when it counted. With the Jets on the first power play of their season, he ripped a wrist shot that deflected off the stick of defenceman Colton Parayko and beat St. Louis goalie Jake Allen just 4:01 into the game. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler had the assists.
Winnipeg came perilously close to going off-side on the play, and the Blues briefly considered a challenge before replays showed the puck had just stayed inside the blue-line seconds before it ended up in the back of the net.
The Jets had another glorious chance later in the period, as Jack Roslovic stripped the puck off Allen behind the St. Louis net and fed a wide-open Nikolaj Ehlers. But his shot that appeared headed for the gaping net was kicked out by Jay Bouwmeester’s toe at the last second.
The Jets top line of Scheifele, Wheeler and Kyle Connor was the most dangerous on the ice, repeatedly hemming St. Louis in their zone with precision passing and a relentless forecheck.
Connor nearly made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the second period, undressing Brayden Schenn with a deke and hitting the crossbar.
But that near-miss was merely delaying the inevitable offensive eruption.
Adam Lowry scored shorthanded early in the third period following a wild scramble in his own end which included another glorious Hellebuyck stop. Lowry was able to jump on a loose puck and pull away on a breakaway, beating Allen between the legs.
Wheeler scored just over a minute later on a two-on-one rush following a great feed from Connor, who then lit the lamp himself 40 seconds after that when he tipped a Jacob Trouba point shot.
Brandon Tanev finished off the Jets scoring midway through the period, with rookie Kristian Vesalainen getting his first career point with an assist.
St. Louis broke the shutout with just under six minutes left to play as Vince Dunn’s shot beat Hellebuyck at the end of a Blues power play.
Winnipeg wraps up the quick two-game road trip to start the season on Saturday night in Dallas. They play their home opener next Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings.
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.