WINNIPEG - In a series that both sides believe will be a grind right to the finish, the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues went toe-to-toe in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series, but unfortunately for the 15,000-plus fans inside Bell MTS Place, it was the Blues who left the arena with a 2-1 win.
Patrik Laine's first of the postseason held up as the only goal in the game through 40 minutes, before the Blues had goals from David Perron and Tyler Bozak in the final frame to earn a 1-0 lead in the series.
"I liked the start of our third, I didn't think we were nearly as quick as we were prior once they tied the game," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "We were a little tight with the puck. The game was right from the start, the effort was right. I liked a lot of the things that we did."
Video: STL@WPG, Gm1: Laine wires home wrister from slot
Both Connor Hellebuyck and Jordan Binnington finished the game with 24 saves. Though the shots against maybe weren't as high as some of their regular season starts, both goaltenders made big stops when their team needed them.
Hellebuyck turned away Vladimir Tarasenko on a breakaway, then with 12.5 seconds left in regulation, Binnington went post-to-post to stop Mark Scheifele from tying the game.
"Some high end goaltending saves when you watch it on TV up close. Those guys made some tight area saves that they got a piece of that maybe didn't look as dangerous. They were dangerous shots," said Maurice.
"It was good playoff hockey. It wasn't an open game. None of them are going to be. It's not breaking loose in this series. It's going to look almost like that straight through."
Video: STL@WPG, Gm1: Hellebuyck, Byfuglien keep puck out
The physical tone was set early in the opening period, as free ice was tough to come by for both teams. But with 6:22 to go in the first, Bryan Little found Laine open in the high slot, where the Finnish sniper wasted no time wiring a wrist shot into the top corner past Binnington's glove for the game's opening goal.
"Our line, we played pretty solid. We tried to get on the body right away and make their D rim some pucks so we can create some turnovers," said Laine. "We were able to score on. It was a tough bounce at the end for our line. That's the way it goes. We just need to focus on the next game."
After a scoreless second, St. Louis would find the equalizer. Perron's wrist shot from the right point got through a maze of bodies in front of Hellebuyck, beating the Jets goaltender on the stick side.
"They made one more play than we did," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who finished with three shots in 17:03 of ice time.
"They sprung a couple. We'd like to clean that up. Our goalie made some big saves. They won that period."
Video: STL@WPG, Gm1: Hellebuyck slides across to stop Bozak
The Jets had chances in the third to take the lead back. Laine hit the post, Dustin Byfuglien had a chance off the rush that just missed high, and a couple of loose pucks in the crease didn't find their way across the line.
Those missed chances proved costly, as Patrick Maroon held off a Jets defender and found Bozak in the slot with 2:05 to go in regulation. His shot got by Hellebuyck, putting the Jets down 2-1, a deficit they couldn't recover from.
"They got all the pucks deep. We were playing with the puck too much," Laine said of the third period. "Those areas between the blue lines, that has to be our focus. We have to get pucks deep. That's the way we had success in the first two periods. We couldn't do that very well in the third. That's the result."
Game 2 is set for Friday night at Bell MTS Place.