The game-winning goal was a point shot the deflected off a Minnesota Wild player. The tying goal had a Wild player screening the goalie. Such is playoff hockey.
Those are not the reasons why the Wild dropped game 1 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Winnipeg Jets by a 3-2 margin Wednesday night north of the border. The Wild grabbed a 2-1 lead early in the third with goals from a couple Minnesota, veteran players in Matt Cullen and Zach Parise, and then the Jets turned on the jets the rest of the way as the Wild didn’t see much of the offensive zone again.
It’s the first playoff victory in Winnipeg/Atlanta Thrashers history. Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk kept the game close by stopping 37 of the 40 shots Winnipeg threw at him.
“I thought we played a good game,” Dubnyk said. “Just shows you the margin is small. We’ve got to finish.”
It’s the finishing part that has haunted the Wild in the past. Before the scoring got started, which didn’t happen for either team until late in the second, the Wild had a few opportunities to put the puck in the net.
Cullen and Charlie Coyle had a 2-on-1 chance in the second but couldn’t get a shot off. Jonas Brodin tried to feed Jason Zucker on the rush in the first, but the puck skipped off Zucker’s stick in a one-too-many-passes scenario. Eric Staal and Parise were also shut down pretty well the first two periods; neither registered a shot on goal in 40 minutes. They each finished the game with one shot on goal.
“We had stretches that we played alright,” Cullen said. “We view this as a missed opportunity. I don’t think we played to our level, to be honest.”
First blood went to the Jets, taking a 1-0 lead with 2:23 to play in the second period with a power-play goal from Mark Scheifele on his one-timer from the high slot. He scored just 20 seconds into Nate Prosser’s holding penalty after his hard hit into the end boards on Brandon Tanev.
The goal had to be deflating for a Wild team that played a solid middle frame, generating more scoring chances and outshooting the Jets 12-8 in the second.
The Wild did exactly what they needed to start out the final 20 minutes down a goal: They scored and took a lead. First, it was the NHL’s oldest player with 124 games of playoff experience. Cullen accepted a pass in the slot from rookie Jordan Greenway to tie the game 1-1 just 1:46 into the third period.
Two minutes, 12 seconds later, Parise gave the Wild a 2-1 lead with 16:02 to play. Mikko Koivu made a pass up to Mikael Granlund who went into the zone on a 2-on-1 with Parise. Granlund was ever-so-patient and slid the puck over to Parise at the last minute in front of the crease for the tap-in goal.
That’s where the good things end for Minnesota.
“It was a great play by Granny for Zach’s goal,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Great play by Greenway on the boards. That gave us a lot of life, but we just couldn’t sustain it.”
Less than a minute after the Wild grabbed the lead, they turned the puck over. Patrik Laine weaved his way into the zone with the puck and fired his tough shot past Dubnyk. Tie game.
“One turnover can be the difference in a game,” Dubnyk said.
The Wild, which should have had momentum with a 2-1 lead, were on their heels. The Jets sent shot after shot toward the Wild goal. Jared Spurgeon saved a puck that trickled through Dubnyk’s pads toward the goal line. Dubnyk was absolutely peppered and kept the game tied – until there was 7:12 remaining.
In a goal that you could feel coming from the Jets, Joe Morrow took a shot from the point that deflected off Coyle and into the net for the eventual game-winner. It could be seen as a tough break, but the Jets were also making their chances at that point.
Boudreau pulled Dubnyk with more than two minutes to play and had plenty of offensive faceoffs to try and get the equalizer as the Jets iced the puck multiple times trying to score the empty-netter. Time finally expired, and the Wild found themselves in a 0-1 hole in the best-of-seven series.
The Jets outshot the Wild 19-4 in the third period and 40-20 for the game.
Shocking to probably no one, the game was a physical, hard-hitting match-up. Dustin Byfuglien took the first Jets penalty when he pushed Greenway out from in front of the Jets’ goal crease. Byfuglien took the penalty when he went a bit too far and punched Greenway in the face. Unfortunately, the Wild came up empty on the power play, despite offensive zone tie.
The Jets recorded 39 hits in the game to the Wild’s 31. Players were protective of their goaltenders and were not afraid to finish checks. There were more than a few after-whistle skirmishes. Nino Niederreiter led the Wild with seven hits.
For Boudreau, he said his team had a good opportunity to win that game. He even noted the closeness of the game afterward, saying it’s not like the Jets put up six goals. He also recognized the mistakes and what led to the tying and game-winning goals.
“We gave them the second goal,” Boudreau said. “The third goal was a deflection off our stick. We made a couple young mistakes.
“We can play a lot better than what we played tonight.”
Dubnyk (0-1) with 37 saves on 40 shots. Connor Hellebuyck (1-0) with 18 saves on 20 shots.
All three goals for the Jets players were their first career playoff goals.
Rookies Greenway, and defensemen Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler were all playing in their very first playoff game. Greenway played 11:54 and earned his second NHL point and first playoff assist, plus he had two hits. Soucy had a hit and two blocked shots in 15:04 on the ice. Seeler recorded a shot on goal, a hit and four blocked shots in 14:04.
Joel Eriksson Ek led the Wild with four shots on goal.
No penalties were assessed in the third period.
Spurgeon was in his first game back from injury. He had two hits in 20:19 of ice time.
Cullen has 19 goals and 38 assists for 57 career playoff points in 124 games.
Parise scored his 33rd playoff goal and leads the Wild with 72 career playoff points.
The 37 saves for Dubnyk ties his career-high for a playoff game.
Defenseman Matt Dumba set a playoff career-high with 30:03 on the ice.
Up next: Game 2 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday in Winnipeg.
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