It took a while, 106 minutes and 52 seconds, to be exact, but the Winnipeg Jets have swept the Edmonton Oilers following a thrilling 4-3 victory in triple overtime. With the series victory, the Jets accomplished something that very few saw coming. Entering the first round as heavy underdogs, many, including myself, envisioned the Oilers reaching the second round.
However, with a newly discovered defensive identity, a resurgence from Connor Hellebuyck, and a top-six eager to contribute, the Jets can now celebrate in their home city as they will see the 2nd round for the first time since 2018.
If someone were to ask me to summarize this series, I would simply divide it into three key parts; shutdown defense, timely goals, and depth. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were kept in check (compared to what they could’ve accomplished). Three of the four games went to overtime, and there were plenty of unsung heroes that flew under the radar throughout the series.
Now that the dust has settled and Jets fans everywhere are waking up with a smile, here are 3 things that stood out to me as the Jets sent the Oilers packing.
Another Relatively Quiet Night for McDavid and Draisaitl
Allow me to preface this by saying that a “relatively quiet night” for two of the best players in the world isn’t considered a quiet night by the majority of NHL players. Nevertheless, limiting their production in any capacity can be seen as a huge moral victory for any team and, in this case, a literal victory as well.
I pointed out in my series preview that the Jets needed to keep McDavid and Draisaitl in check if they wanted to find success. Well, mission accomplished. Holding the duo off the scoresheet for two consecutive games to start the series seemed to set the tone for the rest of it as if the mentality amongst the Jets blueline shifted from “this is impossible” to “we can do this” in a matter of hours.
The Jets kept things simple. On plays where they were physical, getting bodies and sticks into passing lanes and sticking to their man-to-man strategy in the defensive zone, the Oilers’ offense couldn’t seem to find an answer. On the rare occasion where an assignment was missed, or a turnover occurred, the Jets often paid for it. It was trial and error, but Winnipeg certainly learned quickly.
While McDavid and Draisaitl still combined for nine points across the four-game series, it’s a major step down from their production against the Jets during the regular season. And, I bet if any team in the league had the option to hold McDavid to just one point per game across a playoff series, they would gladly agree to whatever terms and conditions are included.
The bottom line? The Jets managed to limit the production of two NHL superstars and do it in a way that wasn’t just consistent but highly effective as well, something that they will look to continue to do as they await their next opponent.
Jets’ Top Line Continues to Rises to the Occasion
Among the many positive takeaways from Game 4 was that the Jets’ top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Kyle Connor continued to produce. All three had a hand in the victory and played key roles down the stretch, which is both unsurprising and impressive considering the instant success the Jets have found in the postseason.
Scheifele, who has continuously been placed under a microscope this season, burst onto the scoresheet in Game 4, wiring home a pair of goals, including the game-tying goal midway through the 3rd period. Having already been matched up against Darnell Nurse for most of the season, Scheifele took advantage of some favorable matchups, as both of his goals came with Nurse watching from the bench.
Wheeler also contributed, more so at both ends of the ice, registering a pair of assists and painfully blocking a shot late in the third period. “I’ve got three beautiful kids, we’re not having any more, so what the hell” (via Murat Ates, The Athletic), the Jets captain stated postgame, a lighthearted take on where the puck ended up.
At the end of the day, it will likely be Connor’s game-winning goal that people will remember the most, simply because it sums up the series quite nicely. With McDavid streaking down the left side, Neal Pionk intercepts a dump in intended for the corner and instead throws it up the ice to Connor at the end of his shift. With one last burst of speed, Connor manages to sneak a shot under the arm of Mike Smith to end the marathon of a game in triple overtime. Neutralizing McDavid and scoring the series-clinching goal all in one shift is an accurate representation of how the series transpired.
“I was tired on the back check and I didn’t want to change. [Pionk] made a great play and I just tried to get it on net at the end of my shift”, Connor said postgame on the live broadcast. And when he was asked how he felt after three straight games ending in overtime? “It’s fun. It’s the playoffs and this is what we play for. Especially when you come out on top.”
Jets’ Defense the Difference-Maker
The Oilers’ defense was both a blessing and a curse, particularly in Game 4. On the one hand, you have Nurse recording the third-most ice time since it first started being recorded and logging heavy minutes against the Jets’ top lines. On the other hand, you have Ethan Bear, who, after giving the puck away in his own zone (which resulted in the game-tying goal), didn’t see the ice until the third overtime period. Quite the contrast in talent on the blueline.
For the Jets, it was the sheer opposite. Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk confidently handled most of the defensive responsibilities, with the rest of the defensive corps chipping in. Dylan DeMelo and Derek Forbort stayed true to their roles, and Tucker Poolman and Logan Stanley continued to demonstrate their poise and physical ability.
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The defensive strategy for both teams was undoubtedly a huge difference-maker throughout the series and particularly in Game 4. The Jets used all six of their defensemen consistently and, for the most part, deployed them in a variety of roles. For the Oilers, Ethan Bear and Slater Koekkoek barely saw the ice, and when they finally did, the game was over shortly afterward. Looking back on the series as a whole, the defensive contributions from both teams varied significantly and, with the Jets finding more consistency and structure, they find themselves moving on to the 2nd round.
Jets Enjoy Long Break as They Await Their Next Opponent
The Jets now await the winner of the Toronto-Montreal series, with the Maple Leafs leading 2-1 following their narrow victory on Monday night. The earliest possible conclusion for that series is Thursday, if the Maple Leafs win Tuesday night in Montreal and then again at home later in the week.
Regardless, the Jets will now enjoy a longer break as they rest, recharge, and prepare for the road ahead. With plenty of celebration already underway, the confidence continues to grow within the organization and at the perfect time, if you ask me.
What were the Jets’ keys to success against the Oilers? Who would you like to see them face off with in the 2nd round? Let me know in the comments.
Currently a sport media student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Josh Kim is a freelance photographer and journalist with The Hockey Writers. Having worked within the ECHL, PWHPA, and OHL in a variety of content-based roles, Josh has been working in sports for the past 5+ years and currently finds himself working with Ryerson athletics as a sports photographer. With The Hockey Writers, Josh chases feature stories while also covering the Winnipeg Jets, the World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft. While hockey continues to be his main focus, Josh is also a fully credentialed WNBA writer and the host of the Get Your Head in the Game podcast, which emphasizes the connection between mental health and sport. If you’re interested in seeing a full display of his work, if you’ve got a story tip, or just want to get in touch, please find Josh’s socials linked below his articles and visit his website: joshkimphoto.com