Today, in extremely non-surprising news: the Western Conference final is going to be tight.
Vegas and Winnipeg have split the first two games of their third-round series, and both have taken turns showing why it’s not hard to imagine either one of them lifting a big-ass silver trophy over their collective heads in June.
For Winnipeg to skate into their first-ever Stanley Cup final when this best-of-seven set is said and done, it needs to conquer four key facets:
Hellebuyck has to out-duel Fleury
Coming into this series, both netminders deserved their respective consideration among each club’s Conn Smythe candidates, especially Fleury — who went 8-2 with a .951 save percentage and four shutouts through Vegas’ first two rounds. Hellebuyck, meanwhile, posted a .927 with two goose eggs over a pair of hard-fought series against the Sharks and Predators.
So far, after the 1-1 split in Winnipeg, the Jets netminder has looked good, but not great — boasting a sub-.900 save percentage after allowing five goals through the first two contents. Rebounding after a shaky series-opener, Fleury bounced back with one of his best performances of the playoffs in Game 2 and is sitting on a .912 Sv% heading back to Sin City
Hellebuyck will have to out-battle his counterpart over the final five games, as any substantial edge in save percentage, especially five-on-five, for either side will likely reflect who wins this series.
Need to steal one in Vegas
Of those five possible remaining contests, three of them will be held in the not-so-friendly confines of T-Mobile arena, where the Golden Knights have won four of five this postseason. The Jets literally have to take at least one in Vegas after dropping Game 2 and conceding home-ice advantage, and it will be no easy task against a club that totalled the third-most wins and fifth-highest goals-per-game average at home this season.
By all accounts, Winnipeg boasts the only barn that was more raucous on a night-to-night basic than the one on the Vegas Strip. The Jets, however, have proven to be more than formidable away from home, leading active postseason clubs in road-goals per game and save percentage.
Cancel out Vegas’ top line
With 12 goals, the top unit of Marchessault-Smith-Karlsson has combined for over 35% of Vegas’ goal output through the first two rounds and change, and the Jets will have to slow down, or at least neutralize, that front-line barrage to have any hope of advancing.
One way to drown out the attack is for Winnipeg’s first unit to go bullet for bullet with the Golden Knights’ top trio and so far, so good for Connor-Wheeler-Scheifele who have outscored Vegas’ top guns by six while accounting for nearly 38 percent of the Winnipeg’s postseason tallies.
Continued production from the blue line
Watching Knight after Knight take runs at Dustin Byfuglien only to to look like they’ve run into the side of a firmly-anchored transport truck has been one of the more visually satisfying elements of the first two games of this series, and Big Buff’s offensive prowess has been just as heavy this postseason — leading all Jets defensemen and ranking third on the team with 15 points.
Blueliners have accounted for over 20-percent of Winnipeg’s goals output so far, with Byfuglien burying five of his own. The Jets wish not for the well to dry up on the backend, as the offensive juices will have to keep flowing in order to outscore Vegas over the next handful of games.