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ST. LOUIS — The Winnipeg Jets hit the road looking for a Missouri miracle. They found it in the form of two huge wins, the latest coming off the stick of Kyle Connor.
Yes, there’s just something about Connor and overtime that go so well together. And the young 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 dramatic 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues, instantly sucking all the air out of a ramped-up Enterprise Center and breathing new life into a Jets team many were ready to count out after two losses on home ice to begin the playoffs.
“It just kind of a sense of relief. A lot of excitement, honestly. There’s nothing better than celebrating with your teammates,” Connor said following the game. “We did what we needed to do on the road and tied it up. So it’s exciting. We’re ready to go home and play.”
It’s the fourth time Connor has potted the winner beyond the 60-minute mark of a game, but the first time he — or any player in Jets/Thrashers franchise history for that matter — has done so in a playoff game.
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 will be looking to be the first home team to record a victory when Game 5 goes Thursday night at Bell MTS Place, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s going to look like this quite possibly for the next three games. It’s going to be very, very tight. The whole team is going to have to play well, but you’re going to need one guy to put you over the top,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
Or, in the case of Tuesday, one line.
Winnipeg’s talented top trio 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 had assists on both goals.
“Obviously we came in here with a hole, with a job to do. And mission accomplished,” said Wheeler. “I feel those guys are obviously playing awesome, and we’re playing well. It’s a hell of a series.”
Maurice singled Scheifele out for praise, calling him a “special player tonight.”
“That was a hard-fought battle. St. Louis played hard all night. Wheels made a great play driving the net and I kind of tried to stiff one far side. (Jordan) Binnington made another big save, like he did all night. I got it and saw KC wide open in front, and he got it and battled it in,” Scheifele said of the winner.
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, while Winnipeg appeared to be 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 a Brandon Tanev breakaway in which Binnington got a glove on the puck before it rattled off the crossbar.
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 Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck with a wrist shot to the top corner. Maurice said earlier this week a player such as 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 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.
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 soldout 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 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 Mathieu Perreault took a senseless tripping penalty with just under four minutes to play. They survived the two-minute minor with the biggest kill of their season.
That set the stage for Connor’s game-winner.
“Our game got better as the game went on. We knew they were going to push, they pushed all night, they made us work for every inch,” said Scheifele. “It was a battle to the end and a pretty fun game to play in.”
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.