Following each game of the Jets-Ducks series, Kristina Rutherford will be providing her post-game takeaways for sportsnet.ca. Follow her on Twitter @KrRutherford
Corey Perry sat on the bench, helmet off, a Gatorade towel draped over his shoulder. Then he stood up, pumped his fist and yelled ‘Fu–ing right!’ And most of Winnipeg probably yelled a slightly different version of that.
The tide turned at Honda Center in Anaheim in that instant, with 13:21 to go in the third. The Ducks’ leading goal-scorer had been pretty quiet in the first half, but then Perry got really, really loud. He took over the game, highlighted by the game-winner on a four-point night.
The goal that drew Perry’s passionate reaction was a delayed call—Perry knew it was in, Jets coach Paul Maurice knew it was in, most everybody knew it was in—but play continued until a penalty drew a whistle, and it wasn’t until video review that we saw Perry beat Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec on a second effort with a slick display of hands.
“I felt it out there,” Perry said, after the game. We could tell.
Anaheim’s 4-2 victory Thursday in Game 1 put a real damper on what could’ve been an extra celebratory return to the playoffs for Winnipeg. Nineteen years is a long, long time to wait for a post-season appearance. And Jets fans will have to wait at least another day for a chance at a first-ever playoff win for this Version 2.
The good news for Winnipeg
But this was not just the Corey Perry show. There were plenty of positives for Winnipeg. They largely shut down the No. 1 line of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Maroon at even strength.
“I was happy with the game for the most part,” Maurice said. “Our 5-on-5, we did a lot of really good things, and our top end guys matched up very, very well. The story will be the power play goals.”
True. The Jets gave up two powerplay goals. Centreman Mark Schiefele, who was playing in his first NHL playoff game, probably wants this punch back. The power play led to Perry’s first goal of the night.
But Winnipeg had plenty of life and fight, especially early on. The highlight of the night came early: For the first time in nearly two decades, the Jets scored a playoff goal. Adam Lowry is 22 and a rookie—his Twitter handle is @ALowsyPlayer17—and he was just a tot when Version 1 of the Jets was relocated to Atlanta. Not only did the Jets’ third-round pick get Winnipeg on the board, but his goal came just 49 seconds after Anaheim scored, to tie things at 1.
Lowry is the son of Dave Lowry, aka @jungledave10, a former NHLer.
The Jets held a 2-1 lead going into the third period thanks to Drew Stafford, who came over to Winnipeg from Buffalo in the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane packing.
Stafford’s goal came on an odd-man rush—one of many the Ducks gave up in the first half—as he streaked up the left wing, delayed a bit, didn’t see the pass, and then beat goalie Frederik Andersen short-side. Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau’s face was quite red, then.
Stafford didn’t even crack a smile between periods 2 and 3 in an interview with Sportsnet’s Cassie Campbell-Pascall, but it was looking good for Winnipeg at that point. That was a pleasant surprise, because in warm-up, Jets captain Andrew Ladd tripped Pavelec, and then less than two minutes in, the Ducks scored, ending Pavelec’s shutout streak of more than 187 minutes. Not the best start.
Pavelec still the question mark
Pavelec was at times stellar in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. He made 29 saves, and robbed Getzlaf with a glove save in the second. (Getzlaf showed up to the rink in a three-piece suit and stepped out of a black car that looked a lot like Batman’s, and had doors that swing up like wings.)
But Pavelec is going to have to come up with more of the red hot play he ended the season with, the play that surprised everyone when a previously average goalie with a GAA that usually hovered around 3.00 put up a career-best season that ended with three shutouts. In 50 games, Pavelec posted a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage.
And if the Jets want to shut down that No. 1 line, Pavelec has to be exceptional. Winnipeg has to improve its puck possession, too. And the Jets have to stay out of the penalty box, obviously. You have to wonder how a game that featured a lot of odd-man rushes and huge hits would’ve ended if the Jets could’ve avoided those penalties.
“That’s what they’re good at in the third period,” Pavelec told reporters. “I think five-on-five we played a really good game, a solid game. We just have to be a little bit smarter with the penalties. It pretty much cost us the game.”
In the end, the team that came back in the third period 12 times in the regular season made it happen again. The team that scored four goals every time it beat Winnipeg in the regular season (in three of three meetings) did it again.
There’s a lot of talk about the lack of post-season experience in Winnipeg. The Jets’ entire roster has played in 301 playoff games. Between the Ducks’ Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Kesler, Getzlaf and Perry, they’ve logged 293 post-season games alone.
But how about pressure? It’s squarely on the Ducks. Not only do they enter this series the top-ranked team in the West and taking on an amped up wild card team with a Whiteout planned for Monday’s first game in Winnipeg, but Anaheim hasn’t advanced past the second round since they won it all in 2006.
And Boudreau hasn’t made it past the second round, ever.
As Perry puts it: “It’s kind of our time. We have the team to do this.” So, pressure’s on.
One thing is certain: This series is going to hurt. We knew it would be a bruiser. Both the Ducks and Jets finished the regular season in the top 10 in total hits and penalty minutes. There were 39 hits in the first period alone.
Both teams are used to that physical play, but Maurice hit the nail on the head when it came to what set Game 1 apart:
“The difference here tonight is you’ve seen a lot of speed goin’ into those hits, and those collisions are heavy.”
Heavy, like 260-lbs. and six-foot-five Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. There were lots of hits that didn’t count in the final tally, too. Like at the end of the game, when Blake Wheeler dropped Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner.
Expect that to continue in Game 2 on Saturday in Anaheim. To those of you on the east coast: These 10:30 pm EST start-times might not be to your liking, but as Boudreau pointed out in his post-game press conference, there’s good reason to stay awake.
“I think it’s gonna get more animosity…You play seven games like that, you’re gonna begin to dislike people.”