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ST. LOUIS — It would have been so easy to get deflated. The Winnipeg Jets, after all, were down 2-0 in the series after two tough, one-goal losses on home ice. And here they were in enemy territory, chasing the game Sunday after St. Louis struck first late in the opening period.
The Jets had dominated the opening 20 minutes, among their finest of the season, yet had nothing to show for it. Maybe rookie Jordan Binnington, who made several jaw-dropping saves, really did have their number. Perhaps it just truly wasn’t meant to be.
But persistence finally paid off as the Jets picked themselves up off the mat and struck for three quick goals in the middle frame. The end result was an impressive and much-needed 6-3 victory at Enterprise Center which gets them right back in the best-of-seven playoff series.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday in St. Louis before it shifts back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Thursday.
Hockey is a funny game. The Jets had no shortage of scoring chances in the opening period, with Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both on the wrong end of some Binnington larceny. But David Perron got the only goal, a power play tally with just 48 seconds left as his shot deflected off Dustin Byfuglien’s skate to beat Connor Hellebuyck.
And so go figure that an absolutely harmless looking shot by Kevin Hayes from the Blues blue-line somehow found the back of the net. Replays showed the floater hit Alex Pietrangelo before going in 4:57 into the period.
It was just the kind of break the Jets were looking for.
A big skirmish in front of the Blues net a couple minutes later saw Byfuglien and Brayden Schenn feeding each other fists, and their matching roughing minors became a turning point.
It’s no secret the Jets love four-on-four action, as they took full advantage of the extra ice. Patrik Laine put the Jets ahead after a dominant shift from him, Bryan Little, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba. St. Louis couldn’t even touch the puck, the Jets playing keep-away for nearly a minute until the goal at 7:47.
Laine now has goals in all three games after finishing the regular-season with just one tally in his final 19 contests.
And for the third straight game, the Jets had a lead. But their inability to pull away in the first two proved costly. And so Kyle Connor’s power-play goal at 8:58 was huge, giving the Jets their first two-goal lead of the series.
Byfuglien and Schenn were still in the box, so this was a four-on-three man advantage in which coach Paul Maurice opted to use four forwards. It worked.
Things got a bit tight just 1:51 into the third period as Vladimir Tarasenko, somewhat invisible in the first two games of the series, finally announced his arrival with a power-play goal. Defenceman Vince Dunn made two incredible plays to knock down Winnipeg clearing attempts at the blue-line, then set up the goal.
Patrik Maroon nearly tied it a few minutes later after a Hellebuyck puck-handling adventure, but the reunited TLC line of Brandon Tanev, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp came through in the clutch.
Copp’s pass to Tanev went in off the winger’s skate and past Binnington, restoring the two-goal lead at 4:25.
Byfuglien made it 5-2 when he scored from behind the goal-line, banking a shot in off Binnington’s helmet. Byfuglien has been both a physical and offensive force this series, now with a goal and four assists through three games.
And his goal might be the first real sign of some rookie nerves showing for the seemingly calm, cool and collected Binnington. The Jets decision to throw as many pucks as possible towards him certainly paid off.
Alex Steen scored at 13:42 during a goal-mouth scramble. But then Winnipeg’s top line responded as you’d hope they would, putting in a terrific, puck-possessing shift that ended with Connor’s second goal of the night. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele made great plays down low to set it up.
Winnipeg scored three goals on their first three shots in the final frame. The Binnington of the second and third period Sunday looked completely different than the Binnington we saw in the first seven periods of the series. Was it just a bad 40 minutes for him, or a sign the Jets have found a way to get to him?
One of the many storylines worth keeping an eye on as this series moves forward.
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.