Jets’ Hellebuyck knew what wanted to be finished, stated it, then willed it into existence

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Scott Billeck Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) stops a shot in front of Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan (23) in the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Nov. 27, 2021. The Jets won 4-2. Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) stops a shot in front of Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan (23) in the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Nov. 27, 2021. The Jets won 4-2. Photo by Candice Ward /USA TODAY Sports

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Analytically, the Winnipeg Jets had no business boarding a plane out of Calgary destined for home with two points in their carry-on.

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They were outshot, outchanced and outplayed throughout, but in typical Jets fashion, they found a way to win. It was a very Winnipeg win, leveraging the hell out of Connor Hellebuyck and finding opportune goals and opportune moments.

We’ve seen this song and dance before, so forgive me if you’ve heard this in the past: “It’s not sustainable.”

The Flames had 53 shot attempts to Winnipeg’s 28, and 12 high-danger shots to the Jets’ six. Every metric was heavily tilted in Calgary’s favour, except in goal.

If this was the late 90s/early 2000s WWE wrestling, you would have heard Good ol’ Jim Ross on a verge of an aneurysm as he commentated on Hellebuyck’s heroics.

“BAH GAWD, THAT’S HELLEBUYCK’S MUSIC,” Ross would have emphatically screamed as Hellebuyck shut the door six times during a third-period penalty kill.

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It’s a comical way to think about how incredibly instrumental Hellebuyck has been for the Jets, especially over the past three seasons.

When business would pick up, Hellebuyck would be out there flaunting his wares.

On Saturday, that came in the form of a 34-save performance — this, after he was pulled, mercifully, following Winnipeg’s 7-1 disasterpiece in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild 36 hours earlier.

Hellebuyck knew from the moment he ceded the crease to Eric Comrie that he would return to it in Calgary.

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp (9) and goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrate after defeating the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Nov. 27, 2021. The Jets won 4-2. Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp (9) and goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrate after defeating the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Nov. 27, 2021. The Jets won 4-2. Photo by Candice Ward /USA TODAY Sports

So did head coach Paul Maurice.

“So he says (Saturday morning), ‘Remember last year we were struggling and came in here and I got a shutout.’ So he’s got the list, right?” Maurice said after Saturday’s win. “He’s reminding me of that. We needed our veteran guys, our best guys to do that for us tonight. He was outstanding in this game. I’m not saying we outplayed Calgary. They had a bunch of real good chances, we had some good chances. But our goalie was pretty damn good tonight.”

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Hellebuyck did pull off a bit of a Mark Messier prior to the game. Speaking to reporters after the Minnesota drubbing, Hellebuyck declared, simply, “it’s on.”

He cut a promo.

“We’ve got to give what the game is demanding of us right now,” Hellebuyck said.

He then went out at the Saddledome and willed those words into existence.

The Jets were never winning Saturday’s game by playing to their identity, one that had been MIA during much of the losing streak. It wasn’t on display on Saturday, either. The quick-thinking transition game, the commitment to a five-man defensive structure — these things weren’t in attendance.

In fairness, that’s a tough ask given the set of circumstances, which included a schedule of three games in four nights, playing in the second half of a back-to-back and mired in a five-game losing steak.

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So you have to tip your hat to Hellebuyck. He plays such a big-and-boring style that his work probably doesn’t get appreciated in the same way someone like Andrei Vasilevskiy does. But it’s equally effective. And he would have known going in that the Jets were going to lean on him heavily. And they did.

Hellebuyck already has 7.5 goals saved above expected this season and 1.26 wins above replacement — both numbers in the top-10 among NHL starters, according to MoneyPuck.

If anything, the Jets have squandered some of his best hockey when he was allowing two goals or fewer over a nine-game span prior to Minnesota. He was right back at that on Saturday, and the guys in front of him found some run support.

The Jets could have easily wilted away after going down 2-0 inside the first eight minutes of Saturday’s game.

Hellebuyck, as he’s done so many times in the past, however, just wouldn’t let them.

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Twitter: @scottbilleck

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