Injury-stricken Jets look to avoid elimination against Flames
With his team facing potential elimination from Stanley Cup playoff contention, Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck knows his own importance next time his team hits the ice.
Thursday night's clash in Edmonton is a must-win for Hellebuyck and the Jets with the Flames leading the best-of-five Western Conference qualifying round series by a 2-1 count.
As under-manned as the Jets are due to a plethora of injuries suffered in the first three contests, Hellebuyck's performance between the pipes will be crucial. Hellebuyck had a spectacular regular season -- earning well-deserved Vezina Trophy consideration -- but has not been as sharp as necessary in this series with the Flames, especially in Tuesday's 6-2 loss.
"I've got to use this and I plan on using this," Hellebuyck said afterward. "This was an upset for me. I don't see it being easy for them at all for the rest of the series. So they better scratch and claw for everything that they get."
Winnipeg lost a pair of top-notch forwards in Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in the series opener, as well as depth forward Mason Appleton, due to injury, and then saw Mathieu Perreault leave Tuesday's clash after he was on the receiving end of a hard check. Whether any or all of them play in Thursday's must-win remains to be seen, but it is imperative the goalkeeper and other players elevate their play or the Jets' season will be over.
"If there's one thing I have confidence in, I think the compete is going to be as good as we've got," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. "What they leave on the ice in Game 4 will be all they have."
"We're in the same situation we were in a couple of days ago," added captain Blake Wheeler. "We just need to win one hockey game, that's it."
The Flames are looking to eliminate a team for the first time since 2015, when they dispatched the Vancouver Canucks in the opening playoff round. Since that series victory, they've won only two games in three series losses and been twice eliminated in the first round, including last year's 4-1 humiliation at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
"I think the best way to learn how to win at this time (of the year) is to go through it," said forward Matthew Tkachuk. "I've had two quick exits and in my first two playoff series that I was a part of, we were 1-8. And last year, for example, we were on our high horse after Game 1. They got momentum from Game 2 and never gave it back to us.
"We have a chance to close it out on Thursday and we're going to prepare as much as we can to make sure that happens."
The Flames certainly can look at the last game to see what they must do to finish off the Jets. They dominated in all facets, including five-on-five play, in a complete outing. Calgary's top two lines were especially effective, with the six forwards combining for 12 points on Tuesday.
"We're just thinking about getting ourselves prepared for the game," Flames coach Geoff Ward said. "We know it's going to be a hard game. They always are. But I think the biggest thing for us is I think we managed the game, at points, a little bit better (Tuesday). I thought the (previous) game we took some unnecessary penalties. We didn't manage a few moments as well as we should have."
--Field Level Media