In a tight checking game 1, the Jets were able to outlast the Oilers on the back of a stellar performance from Connor Hellebuyck. The majority of the game was played on the perimeter and the Oilers would eventually get worn away by the physical play of the Jets defenders.
The first period was rather uneventful, and let’s be honest, we were all watching the Bruins and Caps in overtime anyway. What did become apparent in the first twenty minutes, however, was the level of physicality the Jets were bringing to the table tonight. Logan Stanley was a standout in that regard, as he really got the freight train rolling early on and would go on to finish the night with 8 hits. Both teams managed only 6 shots a piece in the opening frame.
Period two looked like more of the same, but the Oilers were finally able to break through first courtesy of a goal from breakout star Jesse Puljujarvi. McDavid dished the puck to Darnell Nurse on the blue line who found Tyson Barrie on a cross ice pass, and his shot from a distance produced a juicy rebound through traffic, and Puljujarvi was able to pick up the scraps and put it past Hellebuyck for his first career playoff goal. 1-0 Oilers.
Less than three minutes later, the Jets would tie it up off of a rebound of their own. Nate Thompson made a strong play on the puck to find Blake Wheeler, who’s shot bounced out to a lonely Tucker Poolman right in front of Smith, and he was able to whack it through the Oilers net minder. Poolman got the first career playoff goal of his own. 1-1, knotted right back up.
The physicality ramped up even more for period three, and it would eventually wear the Oilers thin. A Logan Stanley shot from the blue line would be deflected by Dominic Toninato, and bounce in and out off of the back bar of the net so quickly that no one even realized it didn’t hit the crossbar. A few seconds went by, and the referees noticed they were missing something. Play came to a halt and the go ahead goal was announced. It would be Toninato’s first career playoff goal as well. 2-1 Winnipeg.
Time ticked away on the third and the Jets physical play continued to be unrelenting. The Oilers were given no room whatsoever in the middle, and McDavid was noticeably kept to the outside of the slot. Coach Tippet was eventually left with no choice but to pull Smith in favor of the extra skater, and the Jets would quickly capitalize as Kyle Connor would get the Insurance marker to make it 3-1. Play resumed, Smith goes back to the bench, and Blake Wheeler would enter the zone unchecked to deposit one more into the yawning cage. 4-1 Jets, final score.
The Oilers were practically run out of the building from the opening puck drop. Stanley’s huge hit on Draisaitl in the first few minutes would set the tone for the rest of the night. The Oilers did have some sparks of physicality, and they did manage to strike first, but the Jets had deeper gas tanks in this one. They were able to push through to the end and the Oilers will need to take advantage of this upcoming rest day, and come into game two recharged and ready to go the distance. Tonight was a rude awakening that showed them that the regular season Winnipeg Jets are not the same team as the playoff Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck’s performance was key with 32 saves on 33 shots, but many of the Oilers opportunities were not very high danger, and the ones that were got gobbled up with very few rebounds allowed. Mike Smith played well in his own right, but he undoubtedly got out dueled tonight. In a game that ultimately came down to a 1 goal difference, he had to make the first rebound save on Poolman in retrospect, because there was nothing he could have done about the Toninato deflection. This loss really falls on the team as a whole though, as they simply got out worked tonight and need to bring another level of effort to game two, and that goes for McDavid and Draisaitl as well. No one is exempt of blame on the Oilers for this one. They could really use a better night in the face off circle as well, 60% of draws didn’t go in their favor. The Oilers had the only power play of the night and failed to capitalize, so it couldn’t hurt if they worked harder to draw more penalties Friday night.
McDavid and the gang have a lot of work to do, and it will be a critical game 2 on home ice this weekend. Another loss before going back to Winnipeg could spell the end of the Oilers before they even got started. They need to do whatever they can to answer to the physical play of the Jets. They need to skate hard, keep skating and draw as many penalties as they can and take advantage of power plays. They need to turn up the intensity and stop underestimating the Jets. This 1-0 series deficit should be a major wake up call, and this team is more than capable of turning it around.