It is what one should expect as the Stanley Cup playoffs go deeper: tightly played games between evenly matched opponents.
Even if the participants in the Western Conference final are a surprise − one team that has never gotten this far and another in its first season − the way the series has started shouldn’t be.
The Jets and Golden Knights resume their best-of-seven series on Wednesday in the Nevada desert with nothing much decided. Each won once fairly convincingly in Winnipeg, with Vegas winning 3-1 in Game 2 on Monday night.
The visitors rattled the Jets, who have the loudest fans and biggest home-ice advantage in the league, by scoring twice early. After Winnipeg cut the margin to 2-1 in the third period, Vegas responded with a goal of its own 90 seconds later and played rope-a-dope the rest of the way.
The Jets pulled goalie Connor Hellebuyck with more than two minutes remaining but still were unable to get closer.
“We were chasing the game, down two goals, and it made it tough,” Blake Wheeler, the Jets captain, said. “We just couldn’t get any momentum. Those guys did a good job.”
The Jets survived seven games in the second round against Nashville, the best team in the NHL during the regular season. It was a rugged, seesaw series in which neither team was able to string together more than one victory. Back and forth it went, with each stumbling at home.
Now the next round has started the same way. Perhaps that is the way it should be with the consequences at hand. The winner advances to the Stanley Cup final against either Washington or Tampa Bay. Among the four teams remaining, only the Lightning has ever won the Stanley Cup.
Vegas gave up three goals within eight minutes of the first period in Game 1, and survived a flurry of dangerous shots by the Jets at the outset on Monday. Marc-André Fleury nearly let one slip past on the first shift, but then buckled down.
“We liked the way we started,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “It kind of was the way the game was played. We got control of it but couldn’t get away clean.
“Vegas was better [than in Game 1] for sure. They didn’t make it easy.”
Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Golden Knights, an expansion franchise spackled together with a few stars and a bunch of castoffs from other teams.
They stunned the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division title in their inaugural season and cruising through the first two rounds in postseason.
A hiccup in Game 1 appears to have been just that, based on how well they played in Winnipeg the next time out.
“They know my thoughts,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “I didn’t have to say anything.”
Fleury had 30 saves after giving up four goals Saturday on 26 shots. He owns a career record of 35-17 after a loss in the playoffs, including 3-0 this year.
“The key [Monday] was that they came out really hard and had some chances and Fleury was huge for us,” Gallant said.
So it is all even with the next two games in Las Vegas, the second being on Friday. Perhaps one will begin to assert itself. If not, that is not a surprise.