LAS VEGAS – Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t have to worry about the confidence of his goaltender.
After Winnipeg’s 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the NHL’s Western Conference final, Connor Hellebuyck said he liked his game better than Knights counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury’s.
“He’s obviously a big part of that team and playing very well,” the Jets goalie said. “But I like my game. I like it a lot more.”
The expansion Golden Knights lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 back at T-Mobile Arena on Friday and Game 5 in Winnipeg on Sunday.
A Game 6, if necessary, would be May 22 in Las Vegas and a Game 7 would be May 24 in Winnipeg.
When told of Hellebuyck’s comment Thursday, Maurice replied “Sweet.”
Fleury made 33 saves including 15-of-16 in the third period when Winnipeg pressed hard.
Hellebuyck was no slouch with 27 stops, although his miscue playing the puck behind Winnipeg’s net in the second period led to a James Neal goal.
Playoff hockey requires self-assurance, so Maurice was pleased to hear of it from the Jets starter, who turns 25 on Saturday.
Maurice recalls pulling Hellebuyck last season and finding the rookie undaunted.
“Last year, when I did in fact pull him, I’d say, ‘There were one or two (goals) I didn’t like, but you had no chance on the fourth one.’ He’d say, ‘Oh, I can have the fourth one,”‘ Maurice said.
“It’ll be across the crease, no chance in hell he’s getting that puck, and he believes he can stop that puck. I don’t plan to stomp that mentality.”
In just his second NHL season, the six-foot-four, 207-pound Hellebuyck from Commerce, Mich., is one of three finalists for this year’s Vezina Trophy that goes to the NHL’s top goaltender.
He’s up against Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hellebuyck posted 44 regular-season wins, including nine straight to end the season. His playoff save percentage was .922 and his goals-against average was 2.34 in 15 games.
Fleury owns three Stanley Cup rings from his years with the Pittsburgh Penguins and has played in 128 career NHL playoff games.
Hellebuyck may be greener than “Flower”, but his Jets teammates insist their goalie would never feel intimidated by the man at the other end of the ice.
“He’s got an extremely high belief in his ability,” centre Adam Lowry said. “You look at the way Carey Price moves around the net, I see a lot of similarities in the way he moves throughout the crease.
“He’s done a real good job of bouncing back after games where he hasn’t been thrilled with his effort.
“He’s been the backbone of our team all year. We’ve benefited from having such strong goaltending at different times throughout the year, and he’s nominated for the Vezina for a reason.”