col wpg column

WINNIPEG -- Brenden Dillon rolled his eyes, shook his head and exhaled through his flapping lips.  

“What a hockey game, huh? We were riding the same roller coaster like everyone else there. Crazy,” the Winnipeg Jets defenseman said following a 7-6 win against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Canada Life Centre on Sunday.

“I guess we proved we can score goals, too, but man oh man, that’s not us.”

No, it definitely wasn’t the Jets.

Playing that up-tempo, track-meet style of hockey, the Jets, who were tied for first in the NHL in goals against per game (2.41) during the regular season, looked more like the Avalanche, who led the League in goals per game (3.68).

At least on this night, however, Winnipeg beat Colorado at its own game, and as crazy as it was and as much as the Jets didn’t like how it played out, they’ll take it and move on.

“Listen, we’ll never complain about a win, especially this time of year. We’re very happy to get that win and understand that there are areas we’re going to need to be better, and we will. There are things we’re going to clean up," Winnipeg coach Rick Bowness said. "It wasn’t exactly how we drew it up, but if that’s the way it goes, that’s the way it goes.

“Their top guys took over, our top guys took over. It was just the type of game that it evolved into, and you play it out and we found a way to get the win. So, we’ll take it.”

R1, Gm1: Avalanche at Jets Recap

It was uncharacteristic from the start for the Jets, who just eight days ago shut out the Avalanche 7-0 on the road.

This time around, Valeri Nichushkin gave Colorado a 1-0 lead just 6:10 into the game. Josh Morrissey and Vladislav Namestnikov responded for Winnipeg to make it 2-1, but Miles Wood and Nathan MacKinnon scored 18 seconds apart to put Colorado back in front 3-2.

Just 48 seconds later, though, Mark Scheifele answered back for the Jets to tie it 3-3.

“There wasn’t really a message, honestly. Just keep playing,” Jets forward Gabriel Vilardi said when asked if there was any talk after the first period. “Probably that track-meet style suits them better than us, but hey, it shows we can play that way, too. But preferably we all know we’d not like to get into a 7-6 game.”

The Jets were able to get back to their style of play in the second period, cleaning up some mistakes and limiting the Avalanche's chances, which resulted in them carrying a 4-3 lead into the third period.

That period, however, turned out to be much like the first: more chaos, more wide-open hockey and six more goals, three apiece for the Jets and Avalanche.

Connor Hellebuyck ended up allowing six goals on 46 shots, a surprisingly large number for the Jets goaltender, who won the William M. Jennings Trophy after going 37-19-4 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts in 60 regular-season starts. But Bowness said, “You’re not tagging any of those goals on him.”

“Some of them were bouncing all over the place, some of them were just dead giveaways on our part. You're not hanging any of those on him. It could have been worse. Seriously,” he added. “We don't give up that many chances, we don't give up that many shots, and Connor had to play better, and he made a lot of big saves at the right time, which he always does. I'm not hanging any of those goals on him."

Perhaps it was just a case of the Jets getting caught up in the atmosphere. Winnipeg's traditional whiteout was in full effect outside the arena as well as in, resulting in a raucous crowd for the players to feed off of.

It just happened to result in more goals against than they would have liked.

“Yeah, well, I don't think [Bowness] is going to be preaching 7-6,” Jets captain Adam Lowry said with a laugh. “They had a great start. Maybe a little nervous energy (for us). We were excited getting the whiteout and having home ice and getting to play in front of our fans.

"Just moving the puck, we didn't get the puck through the neutral zone early. [Hellebuyck] had to make some big saves. We were able to settle in. I think it's just we gave them some easy offense early, and we'll have to make some adjustments, on the penalty kill, 6-on-5, things like that. But I think we've got to do a better job just staying on top of their speed.”

The Jets will take the win in Game 1, but they won't be looking to break away from their style that much again in Game 2 here on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, ALT, ESPN).

“They are a team that basically all season has been talked about as a Stanley Cup favorite, right? They’ve got one of the best players in the world (MacKinnon), a bunch of superstars. They are a good team, credit to them,” Dillon said of the Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup in 2022.

“But we’re confident in the depth we’ve got here. We’re confident in the way we can defend. For us, we know we can be a lot better in certain areas, but at the end of the day, we are happy that we can get the win.”

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