Jets hoping home ice is finally an advantage in Game 5 vs. Blues

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Home ice, much like games in-hand, is only good unless you take advantage of it.

For the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, neither team has benefited from the “advantage” part of “home-ice advantage.” Through four games, with the series knotted a two, the road team has been the victor as we shift back to Winnipeg for Game 5 Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET; USA Network; Live stream). According to the NHL, only three best-of-seven series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history have the featured the road team winning each of the first five games.

Home ice hasn’t helped either team, but one team’s top line as completely dominated offensively.

The Blues need to get more from their No. 1 line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. The trio have combined for only three goals in the series, compared to Winnipeg’s threesome of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who have six goals and 15 points combined.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“We’re a good line of good players and we’ll figure it out. It gets back to one shift at a time and making an impact,” said Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly. “If it’s something defensively or offensively… we know how to play the game, we know what our success looks like. It’s working for it.”

The Jets stars all hooked up for Connor’s overtime goal in Game 4.

“They drive for our team — all three of those guys and Mark in particular took his game to another level,” said Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey after Game 4 via the Winnipeg Sun. “Looking at last year’s playoffs, that’s what we see. We definitely like to see that out of him.”

The Blues and Jets each had similar road records during the regular season, with St. Louis picking up 21 away victories ands Winnipeg earning 22. But the Jets’ issues away from MTS Place date back to March when they dropped their final three home games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began.

“I think it just goes to show that each game is a new challenge for both teams,” said Morrissey. “Coming here down 2-0 we had to be playing desperate hockey. We did a lot of good things in those first two games, but I thought we elevated our game in the last couple and that’s playoff hockey. I think for us, we love playing at home. Our fans really give us a lot of energy.”

The winner of Game 5 in a best-of-seven playoff series tied 2-2 is 205-55 all-time. The Jets will need the desperation they had in Games 3 and 4 to continue into Thursday night.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Playoff Buzzer: Pacioretty continues Vegas dominance; Connor on point again for Jets

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  • All-time upset in Columbus as they grab the brooms and sweep Tampa out of the playoffs
  • The Islanders, too, snag some brooms and usher Sidney Crosby and the Penguins to the offseason
  • Connor the hero for Winnipeg after scoring overtime winner to even series vs. Blues 2-2 
  • Pacioretty continues second-line dominance for Vegas vs. Sharks

New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI wins series 4-0)

The Islanders just don’t quit, and it proved to be too much for the inconsistent Penguins, who simply couldn’t answer New York’s relentless pace and persistence. Jordan Eberle had a great game. Robin Lehner was solid in net once again, and the Islanders continued their stingy defensive style that Barry Trotz has implemented to near perfection so far. The Isles deserve to move on, plain and simple.

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Tampa Bay Lightning 3 (CBJ wins series 4-0)

The first signs of life from the Lightning since the first period in Game 1 were seen in Game 4 on Tuesday, but it didn’t matter one iota. The Blue Jackets were simply too good outside of the first period in Game 1. Forechecking at its finest. Goal scoring from everywhere. Tampa couldn’t breathe and was forced to tap out in just four games after winning a record-tying 62 in the regular season. It’s an all-time upset in NHL history.

Winnipeg Jets 2, St. Louis Blues 1 (Series tied 2-2)

A clean slate heading back to Winnipeg? The Jets could have only dreamed of that after dropping the first two games in their own barn. But they made a statement in Game 3 and may have done some psychological damage with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4 on Tuesday. The Jets were not deterred after Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead early in the third. Mark Scheifele‘s tying goal was a product of hard work and the overtime goal by Kyle Connor was much of the same. Game 5 should be a dandy in this tightly contested affair.

Vegas Golden Knights , San Jose Sharks (VGK leads series 3-1)

Hard not to think that San Jose is done in this series. Vegas put the Sharks on the brink of elimination with an easy 5-0 win. They chased Martin Jones for the second time in the series. Their second line is unstoppable at the moment and now the Sharks can’t score. You can point to some issues they cannot control. Injuries, specifically. But when your goalie is playing at a worse caliber than he did during the regular season, there’s simply no chance.

Three stars

1. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

Two goals and two assists from Pacioretty meant another feast for the Golden Knights’ second line. After combining for 12 points in Game 3, the line returned for Game 4 and combined for another seven. Pacioretty got his moment after Paul Stastny and Mark Stone each had five-point outings in the previous game. Vegas looks unstoppable when San Jose can’t stop that line. Also, shoutout to Marc-Andre Fleury who turned aside 28 shots for the shutout.

2. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

Connor fed Mark Scheifele with a slick cross-ice feed to tie the game up 1-1 in the third period. From there, he was in front of the net when a loose puck found its way in front of him and quickly into the back of the net to give the Jets a 2-1 win in overtime. Connor had two goals in Game 3 and is producing in the clutch for Winnipeg at the moment.

3. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets

He entered the game with no playoff goals and left with two. Texier, 19, was impressive in a game where the Blue Jackets swept up the Tampa Bay Lightning, building off a Game 3 where he picked up an assist. In six total NHL games, Texier has three goals and an assist now. He’s an exciting young player.

Highlight of the night

This is extremely filthy.

Awkward moment of the night

Panarin just doesn’t care:

Factoids of the night

  • Fleury moved into the seventh spot on the all-time postseason wins list on Tuesday. (NHL PR)
  • More Vegas history: they became the first NHL team to score in the opening 90 seconds in three straight playoff games. (NHL PR)
  • A very good omen for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who became the fourth team in NHL history to sweep the NHL’s No. 1 team in the regular season. Guess what the three others who did the same thing ended up doing later that spring? (NHL PR)

Wednesday’s games

Game 4: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs (TOR leads 2-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 4: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars (NSH leads 2-1), 9 p.m. ET, USA (Live Stream)
Game 4: Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche (COL leads 2-1), 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Connor provides OT magic as Jets even series vs. Blues

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All sorts of questions surrounded the Winnipeg Jets when they dropped two close games — both in the third period — to begin their Western Conference First Round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Those third-period struggles had followed them into the playoffs and doubts about their ability to wash away those sins only intensified.

But an emphatic 6-3 win in Game 3 quelled some of those fears on Sunday, and when Kyle Connor jammed home a loose puck at 6:02 of overtime on Tuesday to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead, and more importantly, a clean slate in the best-of-7 series that is now all tied up 2-2, several more layers of question marks released their hold on the team.

Indeed, when the series shifts back to Bell MTS Place on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; USA), it will be the resolve of the Blues that will be the focal point.

The best-of-7 is now a best-of-3, and Winnipeg gets two games at home, although the home team has yet to emerge with a victory so far in the series.

Regulation found two teams that weathered the storms each other brought. Winnipeg held the fort in the first and St. Louis stood tall in the second.

In the third, St. Louis struck first, with Vladimir Tarasenko scoring early on the power play. The Jets would respond, with a centering pass from Kyle Connor finding the stick of Mark Scheifele, who produced one of the deftest deflections you’ll see to finally crack Jordan Binnington.

Both Binnington and his counterpart Connor Hellebuyck were remarkable in the game. Binnington, the rookie sensation, ended with 37 saves while Hellebuyck stopped 31.

Who might take Game 5? These games (outside of Game 3) have been incredibly close. Winnipeg has finally started to hit its stride, and their physical game appears to be wearing on St. Louis. Paul Maurice made some adjustments ahead of Game 3, including reuniting the line with Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

It was a logical move to make given the Jets needed more offensive zone time, and it’s paid off in spades. The line has dominated in the past two games.

And then there’s Patrik Laine, who didn’t score for a fourth straight game but punished the Blues on the walls. Laine, 20, has made massive strides in four games now in becoming a power forward. He’s all over the place and is throwing his large frame around. A Laine that can snipe like he does and be dominant physically won’t be easy for anyone to handle moving forward.

Quick note: the Jets won their first playoff overtime game in franchise history. They were 0-2 heading into Tuesday’s game.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Five slumping stars who need to be better in a hurry

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The Stanley Cup playoffs are less than a week old, but two teams are already facing elimination and one other team is down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series. If certain teams want to avoid starting the offseason early, they’ll need their star players to step up before it’s too late.

The fact that the Carolina Hurricanes lost both of their games in Washington isn’t overly surprising. Even though they’re not in a great spot, they still haven’t dropped a game on home ice. On the other hand, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are both on life support. Both teams have no margin for error. One more loss, and they’ll be eliminated from postseason play.

In order to avoid being swept, both teams will need to get more from their best players. Getting contributions from depth bodies is great, but not when your stars are slumping. And it’s not just the Pens and Lightning, even teams that are tied need more from their franchise players before starting tonight/tomorrow.

Alright. So let’s break down the five NHL stars that need to step their game up immediately.

Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts being down 3-0 in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets is the biggest shock of the first round so far (it’s going to be hard to beat). Tampa Bay has gotten nothing from their stars. With Victor Hedman injured and Nikita Kucherov suspended for Game 3, they needed something from Stamkos and didn’t get it. The 29-year-old finished Sunday’s game with a minus-2 rating and no shots no goal in 16:11 of ice time. He had 45 goals and 98 points in 82 games during the regular season, but he’s still looking for his first points of the series heading into Game 4. This is alarming.

Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins: We knew the New York Islanders could shut down opposing teams, but it was almost impossible to predict that they’d keep Crosby off the scoresheet in the first three games of their series. The Pens captain has played over 20 minutes in all three games and he’s played over 22 minutes in Games 1 and 3. The 31-year-old has accomplished a lot of incredible things during his career, but getting out of this hole doesn’t seem likely, even for him. In total, he’s fired six shots on goal in the series and he has a minus-4 rating.

Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthews received a ton of criticism last year after he scored just one goal and one assist in Toronto’s first-round series against the Boston Bruins. A year later, and we’re talking about the exact same thing. On a positive note, the Leafs managed to win a game in Boston, but with Nazem Kadri‘s impending suspension on the horizon, Matthews will have to take his game to another level. The 21-year-old has no points and eight shots on goal in the first two games of the series. If the Leafs are going to advance to the second round, they need their franchise center to start putting the puck in the net.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning: Let’s go back to Tampa. Point had an incredibly coming out party during the regular season, as he accumulated 41 goals and 92 points in 79 games. But much like Stamkos, he’s been invisible against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The 23-year-old hasn’t picked up a point yet and he’s managed to fire just three shots on goal in three games during this series. Now that linemate Nikita Kucherov has served his one-game suspension, the two need to find a way to take over this series if the Lightning are going to avoid becoming one of the biggest disappointments in playoff history.

Brayden Schenn – St. Louis Blues: The Blues have a 2-1 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets, but they’ve done it without any production from Schenn. The 27-year-old has played at least 19:46 in each of the first three games of the series and he’s managed to take just three shots on goal (he didn’t have any in Sunday night’s home loss). Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko could stand to bring more offense too, but at least they’ve found the back of the net in the series.

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.

Jets claw back in series vs. Blues with big Game 3 win

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When the Winnipeg Jets boarded their charter Air Canada charter flight to St. Louis on Saturday, they did so with some extra luggage.

A 0-2 deficit after losing two straight at Bell MTS Place weighed heavily on those on board. Third-period demons tagged along as extra passengers, filling the overhead compartments while dancing up and down the aisles next to Winnipeg’s traveling contingent. Despite two closely contested games, the Jets only had silver linings to show for their efforts.

The math for teams that drop the first two games of a best-of-7 series is such that 86 percent of them who have suffered those initial defeats end up seeing tee boxes rather than their names in the second round of the playoff bracket.

Teams that fall to 0-3? Well, only four have ever come back from that. It’s damn-near impossible.

Mission impossible won’t need an invoking after a 6-3 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. Winnipeg will still have to defy the odds, however.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

Third periods have been the bane of Winnipeg’s existence for the past month and a half. They ended the season with nine losses when leading after two periods and began the playoffs with their 10th loss in 83 games this year. They entered the third period of Game 2 tied but the game ended with a Blues goal and another third-period disaster.

And so came Game 3 with Winnipeg in a familiar spot: ahead on the scoreboard 3-1 after 40 minutes and with all sorts of doubt among the team’s fanbase.

An early power-play goal from Vladimir Tarasenko to begin the final frame seemed to indicate the game was charting a familiar course. And they nearly coughed up the lead entirely when Connor Hellebuyck — not the league’s best puck-handling goaltender — tried to gift the Blues the tying goal. But off the ensuing odd-man rush the other way, a puck caromed off the skate of Brandon Tanev and in, giving the Jets a much-needed answer.

Getting more shots on Jordan Binnington was going to be key if the Jets wanted to taste some success. Binnington, a rookie sensation, was sensational in the first period as he stymied the Jets, who were determined to figure out the young netminder. David Perron had eeked out a goal on the power play late in the frame and all of Winnipeg’s best efforts had gone for naught.

The Jets produced several calculated chances in the first, and Mark Scheifele missed on a clear-cut breakaway to start the second. It wasn’t until a floater from the point by Kevin Hayes, acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline, solved Binnington for the first time on the night later in the middle frame that seemed to ignite the turbines.

The series had been so tight that casual shots on either net had become few and far between, something Maurice said the Jets needed more of.

“Not for the point of getting more rubber at him to loosen him up, but more for what happens after we don’t shoot those,” Maurice said in Winnipeg on Saturday. “What you’re looking for is some chaos off that.”

Patrik Laine, who ended the season with one goal in his final 19 games, had rekindled his hot stick with a goal in each of the first two games. His patience and soft mitts made it three in three games to give the Jets a 2-1 lead. Having him feeling it as he has in the first three games is a significant boon for the Jets, who really needed him to turn it up.

Same with Kyle Connor, who had been invisible in the first two games but found the back of the net twice after moving up to the top line on Sunday.

There will be a Game 5 in Winnipeg next week. What remains to be seen is if the Jets will bring home a series with a clean slate and a best-of-3 scenario, or one where they’re on the ropes.

For that, you’ll have to tune in on Tuesday night (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC) to find out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck