Jets, Golden Knights earn franchise-first playoff victories

The opening night of the playoffs was a night of firsts for the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights. Both franchises recorded their first-ever playoff victories on Wednesday, with the Jets toppling the Minnesota Wild 3-2 while Vegas shut out the Los Angeles Kings 1-0. The milestone means different things to each franchise, with Winnipeg relieved to finally earn a win and the Golden Knights happy to continue upending expectations in their inaugural season.

The Jets have been to the postseason twice before, once in 2015 and once when the franchise was still in Atlanta as the Thrashers, and in both instances they were swept, losing four straight. The city of Winnipeg had experienced playoff wins with the old Jets franchise, which was moved to Arizona in 1996, but those wins belonged to that franchise, not the one that was moved to Winnipeg and renamed the Jets in 2011.

Winnipeg was the better team and held a slim lead after two periods against the Wild, but Minnesota scored two quick goals to start the third, seizing control of the game and quieting the Jets raucous home crowd. In past years that would have been enough to sink Winnipeg’s hopes, but this time they had Patrik Laine, who rifled a shot from the high slot past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s glove to tie the game at 2-2. A shot from defenseman Joe Morrow later in the period found its way through traffic and around Dubnyk for Winnipeg’s eventual winner.

Unlike the Jets, Vegas has no previous postseason history since this is the franchise’s first year of existence. The Golden Knights were considered such a longshot to make the playoffs as an expansion team that Vegas sportsbooks are now concerned about the liability on Golden Knights Stanley Cup bets, but they looked like they belonged against Los Angeles, a franchise with two Cup wins since 2012. Not only did Vegas win, but it became the first NHL franchise to record a shutout in its inaugural playoff game since the St. Louis Blues did it in 1968.

Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury tapped into his experience from winning three Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, making 30 saves for his 11th career playoff shutout - the most among active goalies. The lone goal of the contest was a point shot through traffic by Shea Theodore that fooled Kings goalie Jonathan Quick early in the first period. The game was a highly physical affair, reaching 100 total hits after two periods. If Wednesday was about setting the tone for what could be a very grinding, defensive series, then Vegas showed it’s up to the task of surviving a war of attrition against Los Angeles.