When the Winnipeg Jets dropped the first two games of their series against St. Louis at home, Manitobans feared the worst.
The team had been having trouble at 5-on-5 for a while, Connor Hellebuyck had fallen well off his Vezina finalist performance from a year ago and their second-half play already wasn’t inspiring a Stanley Cup pick. So heading to St. Louis in a 2-0 hole, the Jets were one of those teams that looked on track to be swept.
But over the past two games, the series has been reset. The Jets doubled the Blues 8-4 on road ice and Kyle Connor’s overtime winner in Game 4 sends the series back to Winnipeg all even. Seven of those goals came at even strength, while Hellebuyck has gotten better, topped off with a 32-save performance in Game 4.
So is it the Blues who now have something to be concerned about? Here’s what they’re saying about the series in St. Louis.
Tom Timmermann writes that the biggest reason why Winnipeg has been able to win two in a row on the road to climb back into this first-round series has been the big difference in contribution between the top lines for both teams:
While the Blues have had depth, with 13 players in the regular season in double figures in goals, in the postseason, they have gotten significant contributions from the second and third lines – Tyler Bozak’s line may have been their best in Game 4 and maybe throughout the postseason – but the first line has been noticeably quiet. In five-on-five play, O’Reilly’s game-winning goal in Game 2 is the only one for that unit, and it was Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko who had the assists on that one.
While Tyler Bozak’s line and Oskar Sundqvist’s line have succeeded in establishing time in the zone regularly, the top line hasn’t. And if their job has been to slow down Winnipeg’s top line, that hasn’t happened. It was the top line that was on the ice when Winnipeg scored the game-winner on Tuesday. Wheeler and Scheifele are both plus-3 in the series, and Connor is plus-1. The Blues’ top line are all minus-3.
For Winnipeg, the top line has given the team a spark that has shifted the momentum back in the Jets’ favor.
Looking at all the pros and cons from a St. Louis perspective in their Game 4 loss, Todd Panula sees a couple of factors that have turned the momentum Winnipeg’s way:
The Jets have found a way to make the Blues play their game. St. Louis is trying too hard to outhit the Jets and the rest of their game seems to be sacrificed.
Credit also has to go to Hellebuyck. As bad as he was in Game 1 and 2, he has been just as good in Game 3 and 4. He has denied the Blues on some fantastic chances. You can argue he has been lucky on plenty of those, but that is what hockey goaltending is about – position and luck.
Lou Korac points out that the Blues have held 2-0 series leads before, only to see them melt away. In 2013 and 2014, they won the first two games against Los Angeles and Chicago in Round 1, then lost the next four in both of those series. And if the Blues keep playing the way they have been and fail to improve their aggressiveness, St. Louis could see a similar conclusion to this series.
It was the kind of game that smelled one, two, three goals tops. This one had 1-0 written all over it. But the Blues’ game changed. Why? Nobody knows. But the Jets gained momentum, they were hemming the Blues in their zone, forcing turnovers, Blues skaters weren’t getting pucks cleanly out, getting deeper clears, allowing the Jets to recoil and go on the attack again.
“They had some chances. I think we got away from it a bit in the third,” Pietrangelo said. “I think both teams controlled parts of the game. It would have been nice to close it out but again, it’s an overtime game, it could have gone either way. Have to find a way to regroup for Thursday.”
Why get away from it, though?
“Just a little passive, defensive,” Pietrangelo said. “I think we’re better when we’re aggressive.”