By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Tyler Bozak scored with 2:05 left in the third period to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday in Game 1 of their Western Conference opening-round playoff series.
Blues forward Pat Maroon sent a backhand pass from behind the net out to Bozak in the slot, whose quick shot went by Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
“I had a lot of chances tonight so I knew the puck was kind of following me around a bit,” said Bozak. “It’s always fun when that happens so after the few I missed it was definitely nice to get one in there.”
David Perron also had a goal for St. Louis early in the third and Jordan Binnington made 24 saves.
Patrik Laine scored late in the first period and Hellebuyck stopped 24 shots for the Jets, who host Game 2 on Friday.
“I think this was just a hard, fighting, grinding game,” said Hellebuyck. “Everyone was fighting for every inch. They were looking for openings everywhere and they just happened to get (the last) one.”
The netminders played a big role in keeping the game a tight affair, even though Binnington took an early tumble to the ice.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele was sent to the penalty box 34 seconds into the first period for interference. As he was skating to the back of the St. Louis net, he banged into Binnington, who was behind the net and returning to his crease. Blues forward Brayden Schenn shoved Scheifele hard in retaliation, but only drew boos from fans and not a penalty.
Laine sent a blast from the high slot past Binnington at 13:38. The Finnish forward only had one goal in his last 19 games of the regular season.
St. Louis outshot the Jets 8-7 in the opening frame, with Laine having two shots.
On the eve of the series, Laine said his confidence wasn’t high and he planned to shoot every puck he could at Binnington to try to make the rookie nervous. The 20-year-old also said the Jets “have better players in this locker-room than they have” and when they’re on their game “we’re just a better team.”
Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien helped divert a St. Louis goal early in the second period. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko fired a shot at Hellebuyck and the puck trickled out from under him toward the goal line, but Byfuglien swooped in and slapped it out of the crease.
Winnipeg’s penalty kill worked twice more in the second period. Binnington then came up big on a backhand breakaway shot by Par Lindholm and a quick shot from Andrew Copp.
The Jets got their first power play of the game with 3:09 left in the middle frame. Byfuglien had his team’s two shots with the man advantage. One was stopped and the other hit the post.
Winnipeg had the 11-8 edge in shots in the second period.
Laine rang a shot off the post just over one minute into the third, followed by Perron’s point shot through traffic that went by Hellebuyck to tie it up at 4:05. The Winnipeg netminder blocked a Bozak shot late in the period and then couldn’t stop the winner.
Hellebuyck was pulled right away for the extra attacker, but Binnington slid across his crease to make an impressive pad save on a Scheifele one-timer with under 15 seconds left.
“It was real tight and that’s what we expect,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “We expect this one to go seven, and seven real close games. It didn’t go our way tonight.”
Winnipeg (47-30-5) and St. Louis (45-28-9) tied for second in the Central Division with 99 points. The Jets earned home-ice advantage with three more combined regulation/overtime victories than the Blues.
Last season, the Jets soared into the playoffs on a 9-1 run and made it to the Western Conference final, losing to Vegas in five games. The Blues missed the playoffs.