Jets overcome Dubnyk for first playoff win

For the first time in Atlanta Thrashers – Winnipeg Jets history, this team won a playoff game. Doing so was as hard as that previous sentence made it seem.

Devan Dubnyk was truly fantastic for the Minnesota Wild in Game 1, keeping them in the game despite Winnipeg generating a 40-20 shots on goal advantage. Ultimately, a game-winning goal by unlikely hero Joe Morrow helped the Jets grind out a 3-2 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That Morrow goal might have been a rare moment Dubnyk would want back:

Technically, the previous incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets won playoff games, but this is a special accomplishment for a team many expect to be one of the best teams of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While Dubnyk had a great night, you could see how Minnesota might struggle to steal wins from the high-octane Jets in this series, as the Wild didn’t put much pressure on Connor Hellebuyck despite emptying their net with far more than two minutes remaining in the third period.

That said, it’s worth noting that the Wild actually briefly took the lead. After entering the final frame down 1-0, Matt Cullen and Zach Parise made it 2-1 during a dizzying span four minutes into the third. Less than a minute later, Patrik Laine reminded hockey fans why he’s such a difference-maker, tying things up 2-2 in his first playoff appearance. Morrow then got that game-winner late in regulation.

***

With Ryan Suter on the shelf, the Wild are heavy underdogs. To that extent, they might not be too shaken by being down 1-0 in this series.

That said, these are the types of games an underdog might steal. Dubnyk nearly did that, while Matt Dumba also saw a great effort come up short, as the young defenseman logged a whopping 30:03 of ice time, easily the most of any skater in Game 1.

Bruce Boudreau will probably need to ask them to churn out similar work in Game 2 and beyond, which could be quite the ask. In a weird way, a close 3-2 loss for Wild might actually sting more than the Flyers getting decimated 7-0 by the Penguins in their own Game 1, even if Philly will be far more embarrassed.

Ultimately, Minnesota most hope that Game 1 is how this series looks, only with the Wild coming out on top going forward. If Winnipeg’s work tonight is any indication, that won’t be easy to accomplish.

Game 2 will take place on Friday on USA Network.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Soaring Jets get set to start at home vs. experienced Wild

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The NHL’s return to Winnipeg has been an instant success in the seats, with regular sellouts since the Jets arrived in 2011 for a second landing in the smallest market in the league.

Progress on the ice has been measurably slower, with just one appearance in the playoffs in the first six years in wintry Manitoba after a struggling franchise moved north from Atlanta, but the patience of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been rewarded and then some this season.

Sporting the second-best record in the NHL, the Jets have carried the momentum of 11 wins in their last 12 games into their first-round series against Minnesota.

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

They boast one of the game’s coveted prodigies in 19-year-old Patrik Laine and his 44 goals. They have a balanced roster that ranked second in the league in scoring and fifth in fewest goals against. They face the Wild on Wednesday night at home, where they’re an NHL-best 32-7-2 this season.

“Enjoy it, right?” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “We work real hard to get to a place where there’s mounting pressure and mounting enthusiasm, and then we want to keep working to get to more and more and more. So you have to be a part of it. You have to enjoy it for sure.”

Their time to take a big step forward to join the league’s elite has arrived. They even, considering their seed, represent the best hope to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993.

Toronto is the only other team that made the playoffs this year, and the Maple Leafs must start the first round on the road against the Boston Bruins.

“You don’t know how many times you’re going to come across this opportunity,” goalie Connor Hellebuyck said, “and especially now with the great team like we have here. I’m really excited to see what these guys bring.”

With another series of “Whiteout ” events planned for Bell MTS Place, with fans encouraged to wear white team gear to the arena and surrounding parties, the city has been buzzing all week even as winter again overstays its welcome.

“I’m very excited. I can start feeling my body getting those butterflies,” Hellebuyck said.

The knock against the Jets is the collective lack of postseason experience, with a four-game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015 serving as the only action in the playoffs for some of these players. Laine hadn’t even been drafted yet.

That’s where the Wild have a clear advantage, with this their sixth straight appearance in the 16-team tournament.

Though they were overshadowed in the Western Conference this season by the Jets, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the Wild posted the third-best record in franchise history. Center Eric Staal had 42 goals, his most in 12 years. Jason Zucker scored a career-high 33 goals. Their defensemen ranked second in the league with 200 points.

“You really got to go through it to know what it’s about,” left wing Zach Parise said, adding: “I know they’ve been short-lived the last couple years, but you hope with just being there that will help us.”

Here are some other key angles to follow with the series:

PALS IN PADS

Hellebuyck and Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk met last summer in British Columbia during training sessions and rounds of golf that forged a friendship, with Dubnyk encouraging Hellebuyck to keep his head up after the Jets signed Steve Mason to an $8.2 million contract.

Sure enough, Mason stumbled early and Hellebuyck supplanted him as the primary netminder to tie for the NHL lead with 44 wins and finish eighth in goals-against average.

“It’s been fun to watch but that’s enough now,” Dubnyk said. “It’s been a great year for him, but I’ll stop cheering for him now.”

SUTER OUT, SPURGEON IN

One of the Wild’s greatest assets for this matchup will be absent, with a season-ending broken ankle for stalwart Ryan Suter, who tied a franchise defenseman record with 51 points in 78 games.

The upside is that Jared Spurgeon, who missed the last 17 games with a torn hamstring, is on track to return. He practiced with one of the two power-play units on Tuesday, and coach Bruce Boudreau said he’d make a game-time decision about Spurgeon’s availability on Wednesday.

WHEELS UP

Jets captain Blake Wheeler tied for the NHL lead with 68 assists this season and finished ninth with 91 points, fueling a potent first line with Kyle Connor and Mark Schiefele to take some of the scoring pressure off Laine.

Wheeler played at Breck High School in the Twin Cities area and in college for Minnesota before turning pro. He has never missed more than three games in any regular season since his debut with Boston in 2008-09.

CULLEN’S CUPS

Wild center Matt Cullen contributed a modest 11 goals and 11 assists from the fourth line, but the 41-year-old’s contribution transcends points. He’s played in 123 postseason games, winning three Stanley Cups including the past two with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“This is why we got him, his experience in positions like we’re in right now,” Boudreau said. “So we’re hoping he’s going to be valuable.”

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

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Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin / Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark / Radek Faksa / Tyler Pitlick

Remi Elie / Devin Shore / Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel / Jason Spezza / Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell / John Klingberg

Marc Methot / Stephen Johns

Dan Hamhuis / Greg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

[Stars – Wild preview]

Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker / Eric Staal / Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise / Mikko Koivu / Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Greenway / Matt Cullen / Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik / Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno

Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin / Ryan Murphy

Nick Seeler / Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

PHT Morning Skate: Weber ready for camp; Marchand deserves to be in Hart Trophy mix

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Good news if you’re a fan of the Habs, as Shea Weber (foot) is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. (TSN.ca)

Brad Marchand should be in the Hart Trophy conversation, but don’t expect him to be in the mix when it’s all said and done. (Bruins Daily)

• On Sunday night, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine was cut open by a Roman Josi high stick. He suffered a pretty nasty gash on his face, but all he cared about was making sure his beard was intact. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Most of the Original Six teams have been pretty bad throughout this season. (Sports Illustrated)

• St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko is leaving his current job to become the head coach of the University of Minnesota. (College Hockey News)

• This news marketing producer was pretty excited about leaving a deposit for Seattle hockey season tickets. (Icethetics.co)

• Here’s an awesome article about how certain hockey players became Christians and how it helped them throughout their careers. (The Sin Bin)

• A lot has gone wrong for the Blue Jackets this season, but they’ve managed to overcome a lot of adversity. (The Cannon)

• Are the Golden Knights embarrassing the NHL as a whole? You shouldn’t be able to make a team from scratch and be competitive in year one, argues this Faxes from Uncle Dale writer.

Matt Cullen, who is the Wild’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy this year, takes great pride in the charity work he’s done throughout his career. (Pioneer Press)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Minnesota Wild

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PROJECTED LINES

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Ryan Donato – David Krejci– Brian Gionta
Danton HeinenRiley NashTommy Wingels
Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller
Nick HoldenBrandon Carlo

Starting goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Minnesota Wild

Jason ZuckerEric StaalMikael Granlund
Zach PariseMikko KoivuCharlie Coyle
Zack Mitchell – Matt CullenNino Niederreiter
Daniel Winnik – Joel Eriksson-Ek – Marcus Foligno

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goaltender: Alex Stalock