Jets claw back in series vs. Blues with big Game 3 win

Scott Billeck
NBC Sports

When the Winnipeg Jets boarded their charter Air Canada charter flight to St. Louis on Saturday, they did so with some extra luggage.

A 0-2 deficit after losing two straight at Bell MTS Place weighed heavily on those on board. Third-period demons tagged along as extra passengers, filling the overhead compartments while dancing up and down the aisles next to Winnipeg’s traveling contingent. Despite two closely contested games, the Jets only had silver linings to show for their efforts.

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The math for teams that drop the first two games of a best-of-7 series is such that 86 percent of them who have suffered those initial defeats end up seeing tee boxes rather than their names in the second round of the playoff bracket.

Teams that fall to 0-3? Well, only four have ever come back from that. It’s damn-near impossible.

Mission impossible won’t need an invoking after a 6-3 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. Winnipeg will still have to defy the odds, however.

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Third periods have been the bane of Winnipeg’s existence for the past month and a half. They ended the season with nine losses when leading after two periods and began the playoffs with their 10th loss in 83 games this year. They entered the third period of Game 2 tied but the game ended with a Blues goal and another third-period disaster.

And so came Game 3 with Winnipeg in a familiar spot: ahead on the scoreboard 3-1 after 40 minutes and with all sorts of doubt among the team’s fanbase.

An early power-play goal from Vladimir Tarasenko to begin the final frame seemed to indicate the game was charting a familiar course. And they nearly coughed up the lead entirely when Connor Hellebuyck — not the league’s best puck-handling goaltender — tried to gift the Blues the tying goal. But off the ensuing odd-man rush the other way, a puck caromed off the skate of Brandon Tanev and in, giving the Jets a much-needed answer.

Getting more shots on Jordan Binnington was going to be key if the Jets wanted to taste some success. Binnington, a rookie sensation, was sensational in the first period as he stymied the Jets, who were determined to figure out the young netminder. David Perron had eeked out a goal on the power play late in the frame and all of Winnipeg’s best efforts had gone for naught.

The Jets produced several calculated chances in the first, and Mark Scheifele missed on a clear-cut breakaway to start the second. It wasn’t until a floater from the point by Kevin Hayes, acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline, solved Binnington for the first time on the night later in the middle frame that seemed to ignite the turbines.

The series had been so tight that casual shots on either net had become few and far between, something Maurice said the Jets needed more of.

“Not for the point of getting more rubber at him to loosen him up, but more for what happens after we don’t shoot those,” Maurice said in Winnipeg on Saturday. “What you’re looking for is some chaos off that.”

Patrik Laine, who ended the season with one goal in his final 19 games, had rekindled his hot stick with a goal in each of the first two games. His patience and soft mitts made it three in three games to give the Jets a 2-1 lead. Having him feeling it as he has in the first three games is a significant boon for the Jets, who really needed him to turn it up.

Same with Kyle Connor, who had been invisible in the first two games but found the back of the net twice after moving up to the top line on Sunday.

There will be a Game 5 in Winnipeg next week. What remains to be seen is if the Jets will bring home a series with a clean slate and a best-of-3 scenario, or one where they’re on the ropes.

For that, you’ll have to tune in on Tuesday night (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC) to find out.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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