The Winnipeg Jets are heading into Game 3 with a 2-0 series lead over the Edmonton Oilers, a feat that many thought wasn’t in reach for the Jets. Crazy enough, this might not even be the most impressive thing about this team; they’ve held Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid to an empty score sheet.
As the Jets take on the Oilers in Game 3, there are a couple of things they should take with them to continue their winning streak.
Connor Hellebuyck’s Brick Wall Goaltending Skills
Hockey fans nervously watched their television screen, wondering if their team would leave the game with a win as the clock winded down in period three, still scoreless. As Game 2 headed into overtime, one thing was for certain — Connor Hellebuyck’s steady goaltending. The Oilers might as well have been shooting at a brick wall during Game 2 because nothing would get past Hellebuyck.
The Jets’ goalie is clearly dialed in for the playoffs, carrying an abundance of pressure to perform well. Hopes were low for the Jets as they concluded their regular season, winning only three of their final 12 games, not to mention their record-breaking seven-game winless drought. The Oilers were definitely the fan favourite for this matchup heading into Round 1.
When asked about what Hellebuyck will carry over from Game 2 into Game 3 in the Jets’ post-game conference, he shared that he prefers to live in the moment and not overthink his gameplay. “To be honest, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m in the moment, and I told myself game-by-game, day-by-day. If I had to think about it real quick, I’m excited for it because I know I have a great group of guys in front of me that are going to battle. And they’re going to battle ‘til the last buzzer goes off, so I’m looking forward to it.”
While the shots were about even against the Oilers in Game 2 (the Jets had 36, while the Oilers had 38), only one goalie garnered the shutout, and that was Hellebuyck. Stopping 38 shots that night, the Jets hero has blocked 70 of 71 pucks during the series. He’ll need to bring that same composed version of himself into Sunday’s game to help his team earn another win.
This series seems to be a real goalie showdown, and neither team is shy to put on a show with eye-catching offensive and defensive skill on the ice.
Defense Must Focus on Taking Down Oilers’ Draisaitl and McDavid
It’s no secret that Draisaitl and McDavid are a frightening pair to face on the ice, but on paper, they don’t look so intimidating to the Jets. They haven’t managed to get a single point in the two consecutive games, and much of that is due to the Jets’ defensive efforts.
A crucial moment in Game 2 was when Jets’ defenseman Dylan DeMelo blocked a shot from McDavid, but it wasn’t any plain old block. DeMelo was lying on his back, facing the net when he stuck both his hands in the air in desperation with success.
The stinging pain that likely resulted from that block was worth it. If he hadn’t stopped it, the puck probably would’ve made its way into the net, and the game could have had a very different outcome. This was just one instance of a Jets defenseman doing their job.
The Jets recognize the skill of McDavid and Draisaitl, but they don’t let it cloud their vision. Ultimately, it’s a hockey game, and regardless of who their opponent is on the ice, winning is their only option.
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When Jets’ forward Blake Wheeler was asked in the post-game conference about his team’s ability to shut down the Oilers duo in this series, he responded, “You know, I don’t think we really look at it that way. I mean those two guys are, you know, maybe one and two in the world right now, best two players. And I mean they’re creating chances, they’re making plays. I think we just, you know, we just got to try to not give ‘em chances, that’s the biggest thing.”
The team’s collective defensive efforts have truly paid off. It might take every player on the ice to stop McDavid, but so what? If the team binds together for the duration of the playoff series as they have done so far, this defensive group strategy will continue to pay off, and the Jets will have no issue making it to Round 2.
McDavid and Draisaitl combined for 34 points in the regular-season series versus the Jets. Yet they cannot come up with a single point in the playoffs, and the Jets would like to keep it that way as they prepare to face the Oilers again in Game 3.
Focus on the Future and Maintain Momentum
Two down, two to go. The Jets need to continue working together offensively, and more importantly, maintain strong defense to continue taking down the Oilers in this series. The team needs to capitalize on the energy and excitement they’ve garnered from their wins so far as they push through these next few games.
While the end of the regular season was ugly for the Jets, there’s no point in harping on the past. Jets fans should be optimistic, as this team looks like they’ve finally captured whatever they were lacking at the end of the regular season. And if they keep it up, they might just be able to bring Lord Stanley home.