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Hellebuyck, Jets confident between the pipes

Hellebuyck: "I just need to continue battling, keep fighting... and you know, show everyone that I'm going to be the rock behind them."

by Daren Millard @darenmillard /

WINNIPEG - Paul Maurice didn't know it at the time, but in a meeting with the media 48 hours before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Jets head coach foreshadowed the next seven days for Connor Hellebuyck.

"The goaltender should be the highest-paid player in your locker room based on the importance to it," he said on Apr. 8 regarding the immense pressure on netminders.

"You can be fantastic and technically perfect and world-class and you lose if your goaltender isn't. And the opposite is true - you can stink the joint out and win a hockey game on your goaltender. It's the National Goaltending League, for sure."

Five days later it was Hellebuyck surrounded by reporters, steadfast in his positiveness, but down 2-0 in the series and facing criticism.

"I would like every single goal I ever let in back. That's kind of a loaded question," Hellebuyck responded when asked if he would like a do-over on a couple of the four goals St.Louis Blues scored in a one-goal Jets loss.

Into his second year as the Jets playoff starter, Hellebuyck and Sportsnet's Mark Spector exchanged verbal one-timers when the veteran scribe pointed out he wasn't used to seeing Hellebuyck get beat clean on three wrist shots, and asked if it was fair that Hellebuyck should get some of those.  

The goalies' response, "I really don't like that question." Hellebuyck went on to reaffirm his pledge to remain positive before reminding everyone it was still early in the series.

Video: POSTGAME | Connor Hellebuyck

Hellebuyck was doubling down on his unwavering belief in his own game.  

However, in retrospect, it was then, what proved to be Hellebuyck's final publicly spoken words before the series moved to St.Louis that proved to be prophetic.  

"I just need to continue battling, keep fighting... and you know, show everyone that I'm going to be the rock behind them."  

Those 22 words didn't jump out, especially after offering his opinion on the phrasing of the questions he was asked. It was an answer that disappeared into the vortex of cliches by players pledging by to be better next time out. Except, for Hellebuyck, the way he said it was anything but a stock answer.

Hellebuyck isn't motivated by proving he's good enough. He already believes in his game. So when he dropped, "show everyone that I'm going to be the rock behind them," the gantlet was thrown down.  

Then Game 3 happened, and while the Blues scored three, Hellebuyck was much better. In the series-tying overtime victory on Sunday, Hellebuyck equalled the brilliance of St.Louis stopper Jordan Binnington. Making his 21st Stanley Cup playoff start, the Jets goaltender was the predicted rock in holding the fort when Winnipeg was outshot eight-to-nothing in the games opening 10 minutes. His blocker was flawless, puck handling efficient and reads - dialled in. A rock.

Paul Maurice mentioned something about a burr under the saddle when asked about Hellebuyck's approach to the games in Missouri.  

The coach knows his goalie.  

Hellebuyck's approach to goaltending is very type 'A', he thrives on being mentally and technically prepared as any goaltender in the NHL. He knows how to focus, which is another way to say, there isn't a lot of wasted energy, if any.

Video: WPG@STL, Gm4: Hellebuyck shrugs off Thomas' shot

Yet, even as slight as it was, the appearance of emotion in Hellebuyck's final quote after the Game 2 loss was welcomed by Maurice and proved to be a positive influence on the netminder's performance.

Now the series is tied, the city has more energy and the team more closely resembles the one that ripped apart the first two months of the season.

As for Hellebuyck's reaction to the series turn around.  

"There's a lot of resiliency in this room, a lot of character, a lot of chemistry.  We're coming together and we're realizing that our game is good and we just need to continue to play it and force it down other teams throats."

Video: POSTGAME | Connor Hellebuyck

There wasn't any gloating in Hellebuyck's delivery, in fact, the only reason there was a slightly elevated level of excitement can be traced back to coming off an overtime win. The goaltender was back, but then again, by Hellebuyck's standards, he hadn't gone anywhere.

No, Hellebuyck may not have liked the question he was asked after Game 2, but the Jets are loving his answer as the series heads into Game 5.

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