WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price will take center stage when the Winnipeg Jets host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“So I think the overriding theme is that we’ve just got to be patient, allow our goalie to do his thing and understand that we’re going in against a team that’s going to do the same thing [with] their goalie,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said Tuesday. “We try to let him see the puck and feel that if he’s seeing pucks, he’s going to stop them all.”
Hellebuyck helped lead the Jets to a sweep against the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, when he had a 1.60 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. He was key in limiting Oilers forwards Connor McDavid (one goal, three assists) and Leon Draisaitl (two goals, three assists) to nine points in the four games after they were the top two scorers in the NHL this season.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner voted as the top goalie in the NHL last season, Hellebuyck was 24-17-3 in 45 starts this season with a 2.58 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and four shutouts. He led the NHL in minutes played (2,602:49), shots against (1,335) and saves (1,223).
“[Hellebuyck] is a very intense guy,” Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said. “He finds intensity in all different ways. I know that [he] has a singular goal and that’s to try and win hockey games. I expect that, obviously being that it’s Carey Price with his resume or somebody else, he’s going to try and bring his best game and do so to try and help us win. It should be a great goaltending matchup as we’ve talked about here. We have a world of confidence in [Hellebuyck] that’s for sure.”
The Canadiens believe in their goalie, too.
Price was 4-3 with a 2.24 GAA and .932 save percentage in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He helped the Canadiens rally from down 3-1 in the series, allowing six goals on 109 shots in winning the final three games, including in overtime in Games 5 and 6.
With Price as its last line of defense, Montreal limited Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner to one goal in the series. That goal was scored in Game 2 by Matthews, who won the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, leading the NHL with 41 goals.
“Carey Price is probably the top goalie of my generation,” Wheeler said. “He’s shown the ability to steal big games, steal big moments, had a big part in their last series, too. Nothing but respect for what he’s done.”
Beyond the praise for Price, who won the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL and the Vezina Trophy each in 2014-15, Wheeler said the Jets must focus on a steady, unwavering approach when it comes to scoring in the series.
“We can’t get frustrated, can’t get worked up if you get a scoring chance and [Price] makes a big save,” he said. “That’s what he tends to do, and you can’t let that deter you from putting the puck at the net.
“I’m anticipating this to be a patient series, one where there’s not going to be a ton of breakaways back and forth. Two teams that understand what their strengths are, and their strengths start in their net. With a series like that, there’s not going to be that game where one team dominates the other. It’s going to be a lot of back and forth, a lot of grinding, and forcing our wills upon each other.”