EDMONTON — The Winnipeg Jets, backed by the razor-sharp goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck, overcame a sloppy first period to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 in exhibition play Wednesday.
Hellebuyck batted away numerous one-timers from below the face-off dot and stoned Canucks sniper Brock Boeser on a breakaway to bail out his teammates before the Jets found their feet and wore down Vancouver and its goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
Tucker Poolman, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dmitry Kulikov and Blake Wheeler supplied the Jets offence. Antoine Roussel scored for the Canucks.
Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist, stopped 37-of-38 shots while Markstrom turned aside 30-of-33, with Wheeler’s goal into an empty net.
The Jets were outshot 12-7 in the first period, but opened the scoring with just over one minute left in the frame when defenceman Poolman fired a wrist shot just inside the blue line through heavy traffic past a screened Markstrom.
Markstrom didn’t get the help he needed as the Jets began to dominate the cycle in Vancouver’s end in the second period to add two more goals.
With just over five minutes left in the frame, Jet winger Patrik Laine blasted a shot in full stride on a 2-on-1 that Markstrom blocked, but allowed a juicy rebound that Ehlers buried into an open net.
Less than two minutes later, with the Canucks unable to clear the puck from their own zone, Kulikov jumped up in the slot, took a drop pass from Jack Roslovic and buried a shot through bodies stickside on Markstrom.
The Canucks finally got to Hellebuyck with just under seven minutes to go in the game, when Roussel poked one under his pads in a goal-mouth scramble.
Wheeler dumped the puck into an empty net with 1:39 remaining as the Canucks pulled Markstrom for a 6-on-5 advantage.
Hellebuyck led all goalies with six shutouts in the regular season — while facing a shooting gallery at times in front of defence that had to be retooled due to a number of departures, including Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers (who went to Vancouver) — before COVID-19 halted play.
Hellebuyck had a 31-21-5 record with a .922 save percentage while Markstrom was 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage.
"We talked in the room after and despite the loss, we had fun and we played a pretty good game. Guys are amped up and we’re ready. We’re going to be ready to go for Sunday." – @BoHorvat 😤
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) July 30, 2020
It was the second night of exhibition play at Rogers Place, the hub city for 12 Western Conference teams vying to win the Stanley Cup while staying isolated from the public to prevent contracting COVID-19.
Toronto is hosting the 12 contenders from the Eastern Conference.
The Jets, seeded 9th in the Western Conference with a 37-28-6 record, open their best-of-five elimination series against the Calgary Flames Saturday.
Calgary, seeded eighth, lost its exhibition matchup 4-1 to Edmonton Tuesday.
Vancouver, seeded seventh with a 36-27-6 record, plays the 10th-ranked Minnesota Wild beginning Sunday.
THE CANADIAN PRESS