The Stanley Cup playoffs are supposed to be nothing like the NHL’s regular season. However, the first game of the first-round series between the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues had some eerie similarities to the previous couple of months.
While rookie St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington was a game-changer for his side, the Jets stumbled and wasted a third-period lead in the 2-1 road victory by the Blues on Wednesday.
“It’s always tough to lose the game in the third,” Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine told the Winnipeg Sun. “That should be our focus in the future, to focus on those third periods and not always give up the lead. We’ve had a couple of those where they score the winning goal in the last two minutes, so it’s always tough. But that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be Friday in Winnipeg, and the Jets — who struggled since the start of February and closed out the regular season with a 13-14-3 run — can ill afford to drop the next outing before the series shifts to St. Louis for two games.
“There’s some things we can tighten up defensively, but for the most part there’s a lot we can build off and get after it again 1/8Friday 3/8 night,” Blake Wheeler said after Thursday’s practice.
There are a few improvements the Jets must make to even the series, but maybe the biggest would be to solve Binnington, who sparkled with a 24-save performance in the opener and kept his team in the game until it could mount the comeback capped by Tyler Bozak‘s winning tally with 2:05 remaining.
“The mindset was just compete to the end and give the team a chance to win,” Binnington told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That buzzer couldn’t have come sooner. We were just battling throughout in our D-zone. It was a grind right till the end. So it was a good win.”
Binnington’s biggest stop came in the final seconds against Mark Scheifele, who set an early tone by taking a penalty in the opening minute with a hit on the goalie when he was behind the net to play a puck.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Binnington said. “I can take a hit.”
In NHL history, teams that win the first game of a best-of-seven series end up on top 68.5% of the time. The Jets aren’t facing impossible odds against coming back nor are the Blues a slam dunk, but undoubtedly Friday’s game looms as a huge turning point.
“It was a tough bounce at the end for our line. That’s the way it goes. We just need to focus on the next game,” Laine said.
“Well it’s one win, but it’s a good win for sure,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “We come in here, this is a tough building and it’s an excellent team over there. It’s going to be a battle. We were on the right side tonight.”
–Field Level Media