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ST. LOUIS — How much impact can one game have on a desperate, fragile-looking team that could no longer afford just a motivational victory?
A lot, apparently.
“We’re in a great position. We won (Sunday) night and we played one hell of a game. So we’ve got to find a way to keep that going,” Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said Monday as his team gathered for video review and an optional skate ahead of tonight’s Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues.
Yes, a dominating 6-3 win in Game 3 of the NHL teams’ first-round playoff series certainly had spirits high inthe locker room, and the Jets know a repeat performance can wrestle home-ice advantage away from the Blues. Not that it’s been any kind of a factor, considering the road team has won each game.
The Jets didn’t hate their first two games, both one-goal losses in which they held leads at various points. But they really liked Sunday’s effort, which included figuring out a way to get the puck past rookie goalie Jordan Binnington.
“He still played really good. You look at that first period and some of the saves he made, we could definitely have had a lead after the first. It’s just one game. From everything we’ve seen, there’s not a lot of cracks in his game. We did a good job when he did make those saves. We kept positive, knowing if we threw more at him eventually something was going to go in. And we found some cracks,” said veteran centre Bryan Little.
Now the burning question is whether Binnington and the Blues can quickly patch things up.
“We played well. We shot as much as we could, and that’s something we’ve got to keep doing. We scored six goals, now we’ve got to go out and do that again. I’m excited and looking forward to that challenge,” said Ehlers, who is still looking for the first playoff goal of his career. He has been blanked in 18 games over the past two springs.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice is expecting a strong response from the Blues.
“Just handle your day. We’ve had that as a theme for quite some time in Winnipeg. We liked the game and we’ll leave it there. We’ve got a day today to reinforce the things that we liked on video and there are some areas that we want to be sharper at — and then rest and do the things to get yourself prepped for tomorrow. Nobody is high-fiving anybody in the room. It’s done,” he said.
“There’s the danger, right? You get all excited about yourself and find out there was a gear missing maybe on the other side… There’s not that much magic out there, the game’s fairly simple. We were a little better than they were (Sunday) night. They were a little better than we were for the first two.”
The Jets were a desperate bunch in Game 3 and played like it, flying out of the gate in one of the team’s stronger first periods in recent memory. Despite trailing 1-0, that carried over to the middle frame when they pulled away with three quick goals.
Little said the key now is to try to duplicate that emotion. There’s a huge difference between a 2-2 series, with two of the last three games at Bell MTS Place, or a 3-1 deficit where the Jets would have to win three straight games with their season on the line and no room for error.
“It feels like whenever we have a big game or whenever we know we need a big win, our team steps up and plays well. Right from puck drop (Sunday) night, we were really focused in on what we had to do. We knew we had to play a big game. And we know we’re going to have to do the same thing (Tuesday),” Little said.
The Jets are winning the special-teams battle so far, killing off 10 of 12 penalties while scoring three power-play goals of their own. They’ve also kept the Blues’ top line mostly in check, as Ryan O’ Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn have combined for two goals and no assists. O’Reilly’s goal, however, was the Game 2 winner in the third period.
The physicality is increasing with each game, along with the post-whistle scrums. Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who has been a big factor in every game, appeared to try to remove Binnington’s helmet during one skirmish. That prompted Schenn to throw a few right hands in the direction of No. 33’s head.
Safe to say the mutual dislike is ramping up.
“Two competitive teams in a tight series. That does increase, until there’s a cost to it. We had been good on our PK up until (Sunday) night (The Blues went 2-for-5 after starting off 0-for-7),” Maurice said.
“We had some clears we need to be effective with. Our power play’s pretty good. It picks up just with the intensity. Playoff series build rivalries… But neither team wants to cross that line. The cost of it’s too great.”
The Jets made one roster addition on Monday, calling up Eric Comrie from the Manitoba Moose to serve as a third goaltender for the rest of the playoffs. The Moose were eliminated from playoff contention on the weekend and ended their season with a 6-2 win against the Wolves on Sunday in Chicago.
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.