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Hellebuyck calm entering Game 7 for Jets against Predators

Goalie focused with trip to Western Conference Final on line

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Connor Hellebuyck will play the biggest game of his NHL career Thursday, but he is unfazed by the moment. As a matter of fact, he can't wait for it to arrive.

"Calm before the storm," the Winnipeg Jets goalie said Wednesday about Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). "You can tell everyone's excited and we're all just waiting, patiently waiting for it."

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Jets series coverage]

 

Calm might be the perfect word to describe what Hellebuyck has brought all season and what the Jets will need in the first Game 7 in Winnipeg/Atlanta Thrashers history.

"He's done a great job with that all year," Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba said. "It seems like every good goalie has that kind of mentality, to let things roll off your shoulders when it's not going their way, and when they're on, it's not too exciting, just kind of another day. He's got that great attitude and a great mentality and I'm sure he's going to be great tomorrow."

Hellebuyck would certainly like to turn the page on a 4-0 loss at home in Game 6 on Monday. With a chance to eliminate the Predators, Hellebuyck allowed three goals on 28 shots, including one by Viktor Arvidsson 1:02 into the game.

The series has featured bounce-back performances, including between Vezina Trophy finalists Hellebuyck and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Neither team has won consecutive games, and for Hellebuyck, playing in his second Stanley Cup Playoff series, dealing with the momentum changes within games and from game to game has been his biggest challenge.

"We have a good group in here, one that realizes there are going to be some momentum swings" Hellebuyck said. "We got down by three in one game (a 7-4 win in Game 3) and we weren't fazed. We just continued to play our game and all of a sudden it was going our way. The momentum swings can be big and it's who can handle it the best."

Jets coach Paul Maurice said Hellebuyck and Rinne will likely decide which team advances to play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.

Video: Setting up a dramatic Jets-Predators Game 7

"The National Goaltending League is a little bit like that," Maurice said. "Over the course of 82 (games), if you have a guy who has a real good night and a guy who doesn't, you can pretty much predict the winner on that.

"So when you get to an elimination game ... goaltending is everything in almost every game. You had lots of chances but didn't score it? The other goaltender was probably pretty good. You think you played really, really well but you had a couple of breakdowns that were in the back of your net? It's all about goaltending anyway. It always has been."

In the Jets' three wins, Hellebuyck has stopped 111 of 118 shots, including 47 saves in a 4-1 win in Game 1. Rinne has made 112 saves on 117 shots in Nashville's three wins, including a 34-save shutout in Game 6.

"It's No. 1 and No. 2 in the League for a reason," Hellebuyck said. "We both bring so much to the table. You have to bring your A-plus effort every night or the other team will take over."

The 24-year-old from Commerce, Michigan, set an NHL record for most wins by a United States-born goalie in the regular season, going 44-11-9 with a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

He's 7-4 in the playoffs with a 2.36 GAA and .922 save percentage. So whether he's had a superb night or one with odd goals or shots that have gone through him, the body of work is a reflection on his steady routine, mostly with goalie coach Wade Flaherty, Hellebuyck said.

Video: NSH@WPG, Gm6: Hellebuyck sprawls to deny Smith

"We're definitely doing the same work, but it's a little different because I'm feeling good about my game and we don't want to come off it, we don't want the mindset to come off at all," Hellebuyck said. "So it's more maintaining and the same thing on the ice, working on the eyes and the little things that make a difference. I'm feeling good on the ice and I don't want to change any of that. There's nothing to change right now, so you go out and work on the small details that lead to the bigger game."

As for Game 7 in what will certainly be a loud Bridgestone Arena, Hellebuyck said he is ready for it.

"It's not a whole lot than I didn't already know," he said. "It was more that the intensity is awesome and the crowd is incredible. Just every game, you have to bring it. You have to do whatever it takes to bring it. You've got to put it all in one game but everyone already knows that. It's so cliche, but it's true."

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