No Nikolaj Ehlers and no Pierre-Luc Dubois, no problem? That might be a little much, but without two key players, the already-underdog Jets beat the Oilers 4-1 to win Game 1, taking a 1-0 series lead.
Now, that 4-1 score is very misleading. The Jets piled on two empty-netters to give their Game 1 lead some padding vs. the Oilers. But those empty-netters relieved some pressure on Connor Hellebuyck, who was a difference-maker as Winnipeg hoped.
Jets beat Oilers in Game 1 on the strength of a surprising game-winner
Through the first period of Game 1, neither the Oilers nor the Jets found the net. All things considered, it probably began as Paul Maurice hoped. Beyond being scoreless, the two teams only generated six shots on goal apiece.
After that quiet first period, Jesse Puljujarvi gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead. It would only last about two-and-a-half minutes, however, as Tucker Poolman tied it up.
Generally speaking, the Oilers carried stretches of play, but Connor Hellebuyck was alert and effective.
The shot clock doesn't favour Winnipeg, but the heat map's even less favourable – which will happen when you're taking a shoot-from-everywhere approach: pic.twitter.com/aAeSYCNlTp
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) May 20, 2021
Even the Jets seemed surprised by an eventually-confirmed tally, which ended up being the game-winner:
After video review the @NHLJets have taken the lead. 🚨#GoJetsGo | #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/BLji5ZbMpf
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) May 20, 2021
No doubt, the Jets could look at Game 1 as a prototype for beating the Oilers. Especially if one or both of Dubois and Ehlers take time to return.
- Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl went pointless. Top Jets didn’t score much beyond empty-netters (Blake Wheeler assisted on the 1-1 goal), but most nights, Winnipeg would probably be delighted about a “draw.”
- Connor Hellebuyck was nearly perfect.
- Generally speaking, officiating went Winnipeg’s way. Yes, the Jets didn’t receive a power play in Game 1, but the terrifying Oilers unit only went to work once.
Just one game, yet key for the Jets
For Draisaitl and McDavid, it’s probably wisest just to avoid panicking. About the only beef might be that it took a while for McDavid to register a shot on goal. Maybe the two were a bit too deferential at times?
(That’s easy to say when Edmonton loses, and to forget about when McDavid dishes perfectly to a lucky teammate.)
It’s only Game 1, and gaining a 1-0 series lead might be more crucial for the Jets than it was painful for the Oilers. Winning when so many expect you to lose, particularly with key missing players? That has to be sweet, and a confidence-booster.
This could also be a reminder for McDavid, Draisaitl, and the Oilers. The space might not always be there in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, not like it was during that 105-point season. Like it or not, sometimes officials just put their whistles away.
By winning Game 1, the Jets remind us that they aren’t that far removed from being the team that would have been favored over the Oilers. It could make this a long series, or even set the stage for a larger upset.
OILERS VS. JETS (WIN leads 1-0) – series livestream link
Game 1: Jets 4, Oilers 1
Friday, May 21: Jets at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Sunday, May 23: Oilers at Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Monday, May 24: Oilers at Jets, 9:45 p.m. ET
*Wednesday, May 26: Jets at Oilers TBD
*Friday, May 28: Oilers at Jets TBD
*Sunday, May 30: Jets at Oilers TBD
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.