After nine days of rest, the Winnipeg Jets met the Montreal Canadiens — less than 48 hours removed from upsetting the Toronto Maple Leafs — for Game 1 of a second-round matchup not many saw coming.
The Canadiens continued their winning ways, triumphing over the Jets 5-3 to take a 1-0 series lead. Here are four takeaways from the 60 minutes at Bell MTS Place that was.
1: Jets Looked Rusty After Long Layoff
After being idle since completing the sweep of the Edmonton Oilers on May 24, there was some question as to whether the Jets would be able to come out with intensity or whether they’d look rusty against the Canadiens, who had played seven games in their past 12 days.
The answer turned out to be the latter. The Canadiens came out flying — undoubtedly still feeling good after winning three straight against the Maple Leafs — while the Jets looked tepid and uninspired. They practiced during the layoff, of course, but practices simply don’t have nearly the same intensity as playoff hockey.
The Canadiens took advantage and scored two goals on five shots in the first 5:10. A Jets’ power play shortly after Eric Staal’s marker did nothing to change the momentum.
An Adam Lowry shorthanded breakaway tally that cut the lead in half gave the Jets some hopes of getting something going, but any good vibes from the goal evaporated when Nick Suzuki undressed Connor Hellebuyck on a two-on-one to regain the two-goal cushion late in the period.
2: Price Will be a Tough Nut to Crack
Carey Price was very good in the Canadiens crease, slightly out-duelling his counterpart in Hellebuyck.
The veteran goaltender had an uneven regular season and only made 25 starts as he spent some time on the shelf with a concussion. But he was locked in during the first round — posting a 2.24 GAA and .932 SV% — and was similarly strong in Game 1 as he thwarted a number of good chances.
Making 27 saves, his only blemishes other than Lowry’s breakaway goal was a Derek Forbort marker that deflected off Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s stick en-route to the back of the net and a Kyle Connor goal that was scored 6-on-5.
Price’s lateral movement is superb and even when he seems down-and-out, he manages to get a piece of equipment on the puck. He’s not going to let many in that he can see all the way, so the Jets need to make sure to get plenty of traffic in front of him going forward. When they did get traffic net-front with their net empty in the dying minutes and forced Price to look through bodies, they found the twine.
Price has undoubtedly returned to form as an elite goaltender who can steal a game or a series. Any shot to beat him will either have to be perfect or greasy.
3: Seeing Fans in the Stands Was A Welcome Sight
For the first time in 450 days, Bell MTS Place had fans in attendance.
The Jets welcomed 500 fully-vaccinated healthcare workers to take in Game 1, just two days after the Toronto Maple Maple Leafs did the same for their first-round Game 7 match up against the Canadiens.
No, 500 fans wasn’t 15,000-plus like it was when the Jets beat the Arizona Coyotes on March 9, 2020, just a few days before COVID-19 shut the world down and the last time there were butts in seats. But welcoming fully-vaccinated folks into the building was a good first step in showing Manitobans the things they can enjoy again in the future if they, too, get a couple of jabs.
After winning Games 3 and 4 against the Oilers at home in an empty building, many players lamented that their supporters weren’t there to see and celebrate. The 500 fans scattered throughout the building donned Jets’ apparel, waved their whiteout towels, and did their best to make some noise from beneath their masks.
No one was more deserving of being in attendance than Manitoba’s health-care heroes. For the past 15 months, they have put their physical and mental health on the line and worked extremely hard to help those stricken with COVID-19, and continue to do so as Manitoba battles a harsh third wave. While it was only a tiny token of gratitude given all they’ve done for the province, the author hopes they had an enjoyable evening despite the end result.
4: Bad Blood Is Suddenly Brewing
The teams will be back on the ice Friday night for Game 2. Expect there to be some bad blood and the Jets to be without their top centre: Mark Scheifele was assessed a major and tossed for charging Jake Evans in the final minute after Evans scored an empty netter.
Whether the play was reckless or truly dirty is up for debate, but the onus is undeniably on Scheifele to minimize the impact and avoid making contact with Evan’s head. Scheifele had been involved in some scrums earlier in the third is going to be rightfully suspended for the incident.
Apparently two wrongs make a right, at least they do according to Canadiens’ defenseman Joel Edmundson. He promised his side will will “make (Scheifele’s) life miserable” if Scheifele comes back in the series, indicating they may try to intentionally injure him as retribution.
Regardless of how much extracurricular activity there may be in Game 2, the Jets’ main goal will be to even the series while the Canadiens’ main goal will be to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.