WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Jets know how intimidating Bell MTS Place can be for opponents between the noise and the frenzied atmosphere generated by the rowdy crowd dressed all in white and screaming from the moment they walk in the building.
It only gets intensified when they put an early goal on the board like they did Saturday night in Game 1.
“That’s how we wanted to start,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said Sunday of Winnipeg jumping out to a 3-0 lead over the Golden Knights less than eight minutes after the puck dropped on the Western Conference Finals. “With the goals for sure, but even just getting the crowd into the game. It was a good way to get the momentum going.
”It’s such a tough building to come into to play as a road team. That’s how we wanted to start and get everybody into it and kind of turned the page at the same time (after winning a Game 7 on the road in Nashville 48 hours earlier).”
Vegas coach Gerard Gallant downplayed the significance of getting on the board first, though the numbers may not back up his assertion.
“As long as we get the last goal and it’s the winning goal, I don’t care who gets the first goal,” he said.
Yet, the first goal has been a significant indicator of the final outcome will for both teams all season. Vegas went 34-5-2 when getting on the scoreboard first during the regular season and Winnipeg was even better at 37-4-6. Both teams finished just below .500 after falling behind 1-0.
The numbers get staggering for the Jets as the game progresses. Winnipeg was 30-2-2 when leading after the first period and 42-1-1 when going to the locker room ahead after 40 minutes.
“Every team wants to come out hard in the first period,” Jets forward Nik Ehlers said. “No one says, ‘OK, we’re just going to sit back and see what’s going to happen and then we’ll see in the second period.’ We want to be ready for every single game and we did that really well yesterday.
”We were ready. Last series, the first period wasn’t so good for us and we know they’re going to come out hard but we needed to be ready for that and come out even harder.”
Now the Jets know it must be prepared for an early counter-punch from the Golden Knights in Game 2 on Monday night.
“We know they’re going to try to make a push, so we’ll focus on playing the way we have to play to be successful, which is the same way we’ve done it all year long,” Jets defenseman Tyler Myers said. “Throughout these playoffs, there’s been times where we know a team we’re up against is going to make a push and I think we’ve done a really good job of handling it and not trying to force things. We’ll do the same tomorrow.”
The Golden Knights still have the opportunity to head back to Vegas with a road split, which would be a massive success after the way Game 1 played out.
They’ll have to be more prepared from the time the puck drops. They will also need to find a way to neutralize Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien.
The veteran defenseman ignited the rally — and the crowd — by scorching a slapshot past Marc-Andre Fleury 65 seconds into the game. He added an assist and made a tremendous play to keep a puck in the zone, leading to another Jets goal.
“He had a helluva year and it was masked by the fact that he didn’t score a goal for a long time and didn’t generate points, so the question was ‘what’s wrong with Dustin Byfuglien?,” coach Paul Maurice said. “And the answer was absolutely nothing because our hockey team was winning and he was playing right. We went from one of the worst rush teams against to one of the best in the regular season.
“He’s at 25 minutes (of ice time per game), he’s had a huge impact on that, he started to score and I understand people then started to notice that Dustin has got it going. Now he’s got both (things) going.”
Monday’s game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Vegas would be well-advised to be ready at that time and not 15 minutes later after falling behind.