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ST. LOUIS – There’s just something about Kyle Connor and overtime that go so well together. And the Winnipeg Jets forward came up with the biggest extra-time heroics of his young career Tuesday night.
Connor’s goal at 6:02 of the extra session gave the Jets a hard-fought, 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues. The best-of-seven series is now tied 2-2, with the Jets regaining the home-ice advantage they lost when the Blues won the first games in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg’s top line came through when it was needed most. Connor set-up linemate Mark Scheifele for the tying goal in the third period, and then Scheifele returned the favour in overtime. Captain Blake Wheeler also had helpers on both goals.
Game 5 goes Thursday night at Bell MTS Place, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m.
After two scoreless periods, things really opened up in the final frame.
Vladimir Tarasenko opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the third period, beating Connor Hellebuyck with a wrist shot to the top corner. Coach Paul Maurice said earlier this week that a player like Tarasenko doesn’t need a lot of time and space to be dangerous, and this was Exhibit A. He had been fairly quiet in the series so far, but picked a fine time to make an appearance.
Mathieu Perreault was in the box at the time for a cross-checking infraction.
It seemed like one goal might be all it takes, especially with the way Jordan Binnington was playing in net. Any thought the Jets might have figured the rookie out by putting six pucks past him in Game 3 were shot down by his brilliant performance in Game 4.
He came up with another hefty highlight reel, including robbery of Brandon Tanev during a second-period breakaway. Binnington’s glove got a piece of the puck before it rattled off the crossbar.
Now down a goal, the Jets stepped up the desperation and began spending more time in the offensive zone. Scheifele had a golden chance to tie it a few minutes after the Tarasenko tally while on a two-on-one rush. But Binnington gloved down his shot, drawing thunderous applause from the sold-out crowd who began chanting his name in unison.
Fortunately for Scheifele, that wouldn’t be his last chance of the night.
A terrific zone entry by the Jets, which included Wheeler side-stepping a big hit, led to Connor feeding Scheifele for the perfect net-front tip-in to tie the game at 7:33.
Winnipeg smelled blood following the goal, coming on strong with several consecutive shifts. Patrik Laine had the best chance, but Binnington got a piece of his shot.
The Jets outshot the Blues 15-6 in the third period, but nearly shot themselves in the foot when Perreault took a senseless triping penalty with just under four minutes to play. They survived the two-minute minor with the biggest kill of their season.
This was easily the most intense and tightly-contested game of the series, with both teams recognizing just how high the stakes were, going toe-to-toe and not wanting to give an inch.
St. Louis had its strongest start to any game so far, hemming the Jets in for long stretches of play. They had an 8-0 advantage in shots through the opening 10 minutes, which Winnipeg appeared as if it was simply trying to survive.
They did, barely.
A Jets power play later in the opening frame swung a bit of momentum back their way, but they couldn’t cash in.
The tight, defensive style gave way to a bit more open, run-and-gun attack in the middle frame, which included the Tanev solo dash up the ice. But all of that simply set up the thrilling third period and overtime session.
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.