Jets’ goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stellar in 4-1 win over Oilers in Game 1

EDMONTON — Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves for the Winnipeg Jets in a 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday to open their first-round playoff series.

Dominic Toninato and Tucker Poolman scored goals and both Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler added empty-netters for Winnipeg in its first playoff meeting with Edmonton since 1990 in their Smythe Division days.

Hellebuyck was a standout on his 28th birthday. Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner stared down a barrage of shots in the final minutes as the hosts pressed for a goal.

Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi scored his first playoff goal in his NHL post-season debut. Edmonton starter Mike Smith had 18 saves in the loss.

No fans were allowed in Rogers Place, but Alberta Health provided an exemption for a dozen front-line health workers to attend Wednesday’s game.

Game 2 is Friday in Edmonton before Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Monday respectively in Winnipeg.

Oilers captain Connor McDavid officially earned his third Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season points leader earlier Wednesday when the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks concluded the campaign.

The 24-year-old finished with 33 goals and 72 assists in 56 games played, which was 21 points more than teammate and runner-up Leon Draisaitl. Both Oilers were held off the scoresheet Wednesday.

Edmonton boasts the top power-play in the NHL, but didn’t convert its one chance with a man-advantage.

Edmonton had the momentum going into the opener with a 7-3-0 record compared to Winnipeg’s 3-7-0 in their last 10 games of the regular season.

Led by McDavid’s seven goals and 15 assists, the Oilers also won the season series 7-2.

But the Jets brought a hard game to the opener taking away time and space from Edmonton’s attack and tying up Oiler bodies and sticks.

Edmonton outshot the visitors 22-14 over two periods, but the game was tied 1-1 heading into the third.

Play continued for a few seconds before the goal horn sounded for Toninato’s game-winner at 10:46 of the third period.

He’d tipped a Logan Stanley blast from the blue-line, but the puck flew out so quickly it wasn’t immediately signalled a goal.

Toninato was playing just his third game for Winnipeg. The 27-year-old made his debut in the second-last game of the regular season.

The Jets drew even to 1-1 on Poolman’s goal at 11:01 of the second period.

Smith didn’t secure the rebound on a Blake Wheeler shot, and Poolman swept the puck underneath the Edmonton goaltender.

Puljujarvi scored the first goal of the series at 8:24 of the second period.

Teammate Tyson Barrie’s shot from the blue-line bounced off Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo for Puljujarvi to corral and thread under Hellebuyck’s arm.

Winnipeg out-hit Edmonton 31-19 in a goal-free first period.

Edmonton’s Josh Archibald delivered the biggest check of the period, however, crunching defenceman DeMelo into the boards.

Notes: Wheeler’s assist gave him a franchise-leading 29 career playoff points. Jets forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois (undisclosed) and Nikolaj Ehlers (upper-body) were scratched Wednesday. Oilers forward Zach Kassian drew back into the lineup after sitting out 11 games with a lower-body injury.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.

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