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Montreal Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) celebrates his goal with teammates Erik Gustafsson (32), Jeff Petry (26), and Paul Byron (41) during the first period of the second-round playoff game against the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on June 2, 2021.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

“The first 10 minutes may not look like the next 10 minutes.”

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice certainly had to hope so as the puck dropped on Game 1 of Round 2 between Maurice’s Jets and the Montreal Canadiens.

Yet the first 10 minutes would turn out to be crucial, as the Canadiens took the early lead in the opening game of the series and rode it to a dramatic 5-3 final victory at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.

Maurice had correctly predicted that the advantage would go to the Canadiens in the early going. His team had been on a nine-day break following its surprise defeat of the Edmonton Oilers and the league’s two top scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had played only two days before, finishing off a three-game comeback that dispatched the powerful Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.

It was the old “rust or rest” debate – and it was settled quickly.

“They are in that rhythm,” Maurice had said.

Montreal forward Corey Perry agreed with Maurice. “You can get into a groove,” Perry said earlier in the day. “Things don’t change for us.”

“We just have to keep it simple,” said Jets’ star forward Mark Scheifele, ”not try to win the game in the first 10 minutes.”

For the first time this season, the Jets had humans in the building rather than pumped-in crowd sound and fake fans. Some 500 health-care workers were invited to attend, a fraction of what were in attendance at the last Montreal game, but it was still a welcome change.

“Awesome,” Scheifele said.

“Just the sense of it,” added Maurice, “chance of a change, of a return to some kind of normal – we’ll take it.”

In what had been billed as a goaltender duel between Montreal’s Carey Price and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck – both recent Vézina winners as the NHL’s top goalie – the Canadiens would score on their very first shot when 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi tipped a Jeff Petry point shot behind Hellebuyck.

Less than two minutes later, Montreal went ahead 2-0 when the Jets suffered a defensive meltdown and veteran Perry and veteran Eric Staal, 35 and 36 respectively, combined for a beer-league-level cross-crease feed that left Staal with an empty Winnipeg net to fill.

Five shots, two goals, the 10-minute mark barely halfway through ….

“Next time we’re going to come out with a good start,” Hellebuyck promised after the game.

“This was just one of those nights that doesn’t go your way.”

Maurice had dearly to hope the following 10 minutes would be different, and to a large part, it was. The Jets shed their rust slowly and began to play the highly defensive, careful game that served them so well against Edmonton.

With the Canadiens on a power play, defenceman Erik Gustafsson blew an easy keep at the blueline and allowed Jets forward Adam Lowry to slip away on a breakaway, beating Price down low to bring the score to 2-1 Montreal.

With less than three minutes left in this chaotic first period, Montreal went ahead 3-1 on a curious play in which 21-year-old Nick Suzuki flew over the Jets’ blueline on a two-on-one break and didn’t seem to quite know what to do with the puck. So he kept it, and was able to reach back and tuck the goal in just before he slipped behind Hellebuyck’s net.

Winnipeg Jets forward Adam Lowry (17)  puts the puck through the five-hole on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) during their playoff game in Winnipeg on June 2, 2021.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

In the second period, the teams reverted to the formula that allowed these two non-superstar teams to edge into the playoffs and find success in Round 1: they shut things down. In 20 minutes of play there was a single good chance on both sides, Price making a fine save off Mathieu Perreault in the opening minutes, Hellebuyck making a great glove save off Montreal’s Joel Armia in the dying minutes. Other than those odd moments, it was cluster hockey, with not much happening.

In the third period, Winnipeg drew again to within one goal when defenceman Derek Forbort beat Price on a wrist shot from the high slot, but it would not be enough to salvage the match.

Shortly after, Montreal defenceman Shea Weber found himself on an unlikely breakaway, could not beat Hellebuyck, but forward Brendan Gallagher followed up and chipped in the rebound for a 4-2 Montreal lead.

The Jets were able to come again with in a goal when, with less than two minutes remaining, Kyle Connor scored on a hard one-timer from a hard cross-net pass from Nikolaj Ehlers.

The Canadiens settled the game when Montreal forward Jake Evans scored on the empty Winnipeg net, his celebration cut short when Winnipeg’s Scheifele T-boned him at the side of the net. Evans, who turned 25 this day, was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

The sickening hit drained much of the Canadiens’ ability to enjoy their impressive victory.

“It’s tough,” Perry said. “It was a huge win for us, definitely emotional out there at the end … we’re going to talk to him.”

“If [Scheifele] gets back in the series,” added Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson, “we’re going to make his life miserable.”

For Hellebuyck, the Vincent Price lookalike – check the eyebrows – this was a game to leave behind. He would also take comfort in something the long-ago Hollywood horror movie star once said:

“I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge.”

Revenge will have to wait until Friday, when the two teams will meet again in Winnipeg for Game 2 of the series.

“We just weren’t particularly sharp,” Maurice conceded in a post-game interview.

Earlier Wednesday a Winnipeg reporter had pointed out that over recent NHL history the team that wins the first match of a series goes on to take the series roughly 80 per cent of the time. Maurice disputed this, suggesting that the numbers are twisted somewhat by victories of top seeds over bottom seeds in the playoffs, whereas both his Jets and the Canadiens would be considered middling seeds this year.

“Winning the first game in a tight manner I don’t think is going to break the other team’s belief that they can win,” Maurice said.” These are all going to be really tight games.”

With a report from Dylan Earis