The Winnipeg Jets went out with a bang, wrapping up their regular season with a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night. With a stellar multi-point performance from Kyle Connor, Connor Hellebuyck making some miraculous saves, and a shining first line, the Jets may have what it takes to come out on top against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Their final regular-season game revealed a few critical elements for the Jets as they prepare to take on the Oilers in round one of the playoffs on Wednesday. Here are three takeaways from the Jets’ final regular-season victory:
Connor Hellebuyck Showed Up, But Is He Ready for Connor McDavid?
Hellebuyck’s goaltending being up-to-par is critical as they prepare for playoffs, especially since they’re going up against Connor McDavid, arguably the best player in the NHL.
Blocking 33 of 35 shots from the Leafs, Hellebuyck was about as polished as he could be heading into the playoff stretch. Early in the third period, Auston Matthews and Alex Galchenyuk approached the net with speed and skill, a moment that looked like a goal-scoring opportunity for the Leafs. Unfazed, Hellebuyck blocked Matthews’ attempt to go five-hole on him and stopped Galchenyuk with his right pad on the rebound, which would have granted the Leafs a one-goal lead.
With a .915 save percentage (SV%) and a record of 23-17-3, Hellebuyck seems playoff-ready, but are the Jets ready to face the speed of McDavid? If the Jets’ defensive players don’t perform well, Hellebuyck has to be prepared to face breakaways, which are likely with McDavid as their opponent.
The first goal of the game went to Pierre Engvall of the Leafs, who despite scoring four goals in his last five games, is not even officially on the Leafs’ roster heading into their playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Hellebuyck needs to be ready to face tricky shots like this if he wants to make it past the first round of playoffs. McDavid is a far more skilled player than Engvall, and with seven goals and 15 assists, combining for 22 points in the Jets’ nine games against the Oilers in the regular season, it’s bound to be a tough first round for Hellebuyck.
Jets’ Top Line Dazzles With Skill
As the Jets finished up the season somewhat strong with a pair of wins, one being a 5-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks, it’s their first line that has been a real difference-maker.
The Jets’ top line consisting of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler has combined for 20 points in their last four games and six points in this Leafs matchup. In the last two games alone, they’ve claimed 15 points.
Scheifele extended his point streak to five games in this one, and Wheeler now has points in ten of his last 12 games. Connor scored two goals, one of which was the game-winner. This line is gleaming with talent and will be key to the Jets’ playoff success.
Kyle Connor’s Confidence Contributes to 2 Goals
If you’ve already scored in two straight games, why not make it three? Connor tied up the game in the second period to make it 2-2 with a feed from Scheifele as the pair broke out of the Jets’ zone with a 2-on-1 play, beating Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell.
But this wasn’t his only impressive goal of the evening. With a wicked one-timer, Connor shot a rocket midway through the third, bringing the Jets up 3-2. The player rewarded with the assist was none other than, you guessed it, Scheifele. The only goal that followed was an empty-netter by Jansen Harkins to close out the game with a final score of 4-2.
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This game was Connor’s sixth multi-goal game of the season and brought his goal total to 26. The Jets’ top line is lethal, and Connor will be a force to reckon with for the Oilers.
The left winger spoke optimistically in the Jets’ post-game conference about his teammates’ ability to progress past the first round in the playoffs. “We’re a pretty confident group, and you know we’ve got one of the best goaltenders in the world. So I think like you said, we can rally around that. And you know, we know we’re a great hockey team and can easily win the series and you know, make a good run here.”
Only time will tell if the Jets can win the first round over the Oilers, and if they do, hockey fans might be able to leave their dreadful seven-game winless drought behind.
Courtney is a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Western Ontario, earning her Honors Bachelors of Arts degree in Media Information and Technoculture and will be completing her Master of Media in Journalism and Communication beginning in September 2021. She combines her longtime love for hockey, journalism, and sports media as she covers the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers.