The Winnipeg Jets had one skate in the grave when they arrived in St. Louis to resume their heated playoff battle against the Blues, trailing the best-of-seven game series 2-0.
The Jets will now depart in a decidedly healthier state, their 2-1 skin-of-the-teeth overtime victory Tuesday night at Enterprise Centre their second in a row on enemy turf to level their Western Conference opening-round playoff series at 2-2.
The series resumes in Winnipeg for Game 5 on Thursday night.
The overtime winner was potted by Kyle Connor, his third of the series, jamming the puck home in behind St. Louis netminder Jordan Binnington during a goalmouth scramble at the 6:02 mark.
It was a tightly contested but compelling game, high on intensity and low on goal scoring. Neither team scored through the first two periods.
Vladimir Tarasenko quickly rectified that early in the third period with the Blues enjoying a man advantage with Mathieu Perreault still serving cross-checking penalty levied late in the second. Corralling the puck at the top of the left circle, the Blues sniper ripped one into the top of the net past Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to provide St. Louis with a 1-0 lead after only 35 seconds.
But the Jets responded, with Mark Scheifele notching the equalizer at 7:33. He got his stick on a Connor centring feed and deflected the puck over Binnington before he crashed head first into the Blues netminder.
The Jets arrived in St. Louis a desperate and discombobulated group, believing they deserved a better fate after dropping two, hard-fought games on their home pond to begin the series, both one-goal decisions.
Sunday’s Game 3 in St. Louis was almost a must-win, and the Jets responded with a resounding 6-3 victory.
The Winnipeg skaters were left relatively unimpeded as they mounted their offensive salvos, which surprised Blues coach Craig Berube. He vowed heading in that there would be more roadblocks for Winnipeg to have to contend with in Tuesday’s encounter.
“They had more pace than us right away in the game,” Berube said. “More urgency. We didn’t match that early on. We escaped the first period 1-0 but even in the second they were desperate and we’ve got to match that desperation.”
The Jets were just happy they were able to consistently solve Binnington, the Blues rookie goaltender who gave up more than four goals in a game for the first time in his NHL career. “We found some cracks,” is how Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers put things.
Binnington, 25, is the prime reason behind the Blues resurgence this season, going from dead-last in the NHL on Jan. 3 to a playoff berth thanks to a 30-10-5 run.
As cool as a cucumber, and almost as skinny, Binnington posted a league-best 1.89 goals-against average and entered Tuesday’s game never having lost two in a row.
It is no wonder that Berube had no concern that Binnington would return to his stingy form for Game 4.
“We're confident,” he said. “He's strong mentally. He's a strong kid and he's gonna bounce back.”
And just because almost everything went right for the Jets in their initial win, coach Paul Maurice cautioned that there would be no room for any complacency.
“Nobody is high-fiving anybody in the room,” Maurice said.
As promised by Berube, the Blues came out a more determined lot in the first period and hemmed the Jets in their own end for much of the early going with a dogged forecheck.
But other than a sneaky shot by Tarasenko from the right circle after emerging from the corner, Hellebuyck was not vigorously tested.
At the other end, Binnington also had a leisurely time of it, his best stop a nice glove grab off wrister by Ben Chiarot as the period ended goalless.
The offensive tempo picked up considerably in the second period. That had the crowd on the edge of their seats, oohing and aahing at every turn. But still, no goals were counted.
The Blues missed a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the first minute when Pat Maroon’s redirect from close in front rang off the left post.
The Jets responded in kind when Brandon Tanev moved in on Binnington on a breakaway midway through the frame only to see his backhand clang off the cross bar.