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Conference Final

Byfuglien plays big role for Jets in Game 1 win against Golden Knights

Defenseman continues to produce with goal, assist

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- It's the taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that explains the impact defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is having on the Winnipeg Jets.

Byfuglien had a goal and an assist and made his 6-foot-5, 260-pound presence felt in every zone in a 4-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at Bell MTS Place on Saturday.

"I haven't played with him (before this season); I played against him and played with him at some camps and stuff like that, so I've known what kind of guy he is and what kind of personality he has," said Jets center Paul Stastny, who became Byfuglien's teammate in Winnipeg when Stastny was traded by the St. Louis Blues for a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, a conditional fourth-round pick and forward prospect Erik Foley on Feb. 26. "I just think he's missed that taste for playoffs and now he realizes what it is and how hard it is."

 

[RELATED: Jets feed off crowd in Game 1 win | Complete Jets vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

Byfuglien, 33, won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 but was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers (who relocated to Winnipeg in 2011) on June 24, 2010.

He did not play in the playoffs in six of the next seven seasons, the exception when the Jets were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round in 2015.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Byfuglien and Wheeler talk about Game 1

"He enjoys it and day in and day out he realizes it's going to be a battle and you're sore day in and day out," Stastny said. "But when you're not in it for so long, then you miss it and how bad you want it and how rare these opportunities are. He's the first guy not to take a night off, knowing how important these games are."

With 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 13 games, Byfuglien leads all NHL defensemen in scoring this postseason.

"He does it all," Jets forward Mathieu Perreault said. "He's on the first unit on the power play, he's killing penalties. He can throw his big body around, throw body checks. So for other teams ... I know when I played against him (with the Washington Capitals and Ducks), it was always that you had to be aware of him all the time and he's just been a force for us."

It was Byfuglien who delivered early momentum and the first goal when he stepped into a drop pass by center Mark Scheifele on a rush up the ice 1:05 into the game.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Byfuglien gives Jets an early lead

"It was just overall doing the right things, starting the game as a team, moving our feet and keeping it simple," Byfuglien said. "I just got across the (blue) line and (you want to) get shots to the net early and one happened to go in."

Byfuglien also made a key play to help the Jets go ahead 2-0 when Patrik Laine scored a power-play goal at 6:49 of the first.

He stretched out with one hand on his stick and kept Brayden McNabb's attempted clear inside the Golden Knights zone, stopping the puck right on the blue line. The Jets then worked the puck to Laine at the left face-off circle for a one-timer.

At 9:54 of the second period, it was Byfuglien's power-play wrist shot from the point that Scheifele deflected for a 4-1 lead.

Byfuglien played a game-high 24:44 with three shots on goal and two blocked shots. The Golden Knights took a few runs at the big defenseman but often bounced off him, including forward Alex Tuch in the third period.

"That game that you saw and he's certainly played others, you saw the Dustin Byfuglien spectrum," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "He can shoot the puck a ton, he can make soft-hand plays and he can be as big and strong as you want out there. And he's been very consistent with his game."

Coming off a 5-1 victory in Game 7 of the second round against the Nashville Predators on Thursday, Byfuglien said Winnipeg's start in Game 1 against Vegas was a product of remaining in the form necessary to eliminate the Presidents' Trophy winners.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Byfuglien knocks Tuch to the ice

"We didn't have much of a rest," Byfuglien said. "We were still in game mode. It was a matter of coming out and playing our game and keeping it simple. I felt that we got moving our feet right away and ice opened up and we got to move the puck easily and just do the simple things."

As for never allowing the Golden Knights to get within a goal, Byfuglien praised the Jets' 60-minute performance.

"That's just a full team effort right there," Byfuglien said. "Everyone's just moving their feet, doing their job. If everyone's doing their job and everyone's tight on their guy and tight on their gaps … we just didn't give them much room."

 

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