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Winnipeg Jets look to build on impressive Game 1 win over Vegas Golden Knights

LAS VEGAS — Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness felt his team delivered one of its best performances of the year in a series-opening victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.

The trick now is building on that effort when the teams face off again Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.

“Regardless of who wins that first game, getting that second one is going to be tough, same as getting the third, same with the knockout game,” Bowness said after a team practice Wednesday. “We know how tough tomorrow is going to be.”

The Jets played a tight defensive game and took advantage of their opportunities in an impressive 5-1 victory in the first-round NHL playoff series. 

Winnipeg didn’t let the Vegas offence get rolling and goalie Connor Hellebuyck delivered when needed. The Golden Knights were frequently on their heels and could only muster a handful of decent scoring opportunities.

“We just want to play the same game, do the same thing we did for 60 minutes,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon. “That’s the blueprint for us. We came in here and just wanted to play well and hopefully the process would take care of itself. 

“We saw how it worked in Game 1. We have to expect their best here in Game 2.”

Adam Lowry scored two late goals for the Jets, who held the Golden Knights to just two shots on goal in the third period. 

“First games are always kind of weird,” said Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson. “You’ve got jitters, you’ve got nerves, you’ve got butterflies, the whole thing. 

“It’s always weird playing teams first because it just seems like you’re just all over the place. Sometimes you’ve got time and sometimes you don’t.”

Jets forward Morgan Barron got the day off Wednesday after taking a skate to the face in the first period. He needed over 75 stitches to close the gash but returned to the game in the second period.

He was expected to play in Game 2, Bowness said, but forward Nikolaj Ehlers remained day-to-day with an upper-body injury. 

“Do we miss Nik? Absolutely,” he said. “His speed, his threat, and he had that power play clicking at the end (before he was hurt). It looked a lot better.”

Blake Wheeler had a goal and two assists in Game 1. Nino Niederreiter and Pierre-Luc Dubois chipped in with a goal and an assist apiece. 

“We know they’re going to be a lot better,” Niederreiter said of the top-seeded Golden Knights. “They weren’t very sharp, in my opinion. The goals we scored, most of them they gave us. So we know we expect a better Vegas, but we also know we’ve got (to be) better as well. So (we) can’t be satisfied with the win we had last night.”

William Karlsson had the lone goal for Vegas. Mark Stone was minus-3 in his first game back since undergoing back surgery in January.

Bowness said he expected the Golden Knights to be more aggressive in the rematch.

“This is the top team in the Western Conference for a reason,” he said. “They’re very well balanced, they have a lot of speed, their defence (is solid) and they’ve got some great players back there so no real surprises. 

“We have nothing but a ton of respect for the way that their team plays.”

The best-of-seven series will shift to Winnipeg for Game 3 on Saturday afternoon and Game 4 on Monday night. Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Las Vegas on April 27. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2023. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press