Like all sports, NHL award voting takes place before the postseason begins. This season, both the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets have several award nominees. One of which is Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who was nominated for the Vezina trophy along with Eastern Conference finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, and amateur golfer Pekka Rinne.
Over four games against Vegas, the Vezina nominee has allowed 11 goals and has lost three straight conference final games. Not the trait of a goaltender of the year candidate. Neither is this.
It’s a great effort by Reilly Smith, that’s clear, however Hellenuyck has to have this one. Dustin Byfuglien misses his mark, Smith jumps on the puck and streaks for the net. Hellebuyck had a clear view of Smith’s approach tracking the puck immediately after the turnover. He had plenty of time to get into position. The Golden Knight pulled the trigger at the top of faceoff circle with a good wrist shot, not a great one. Byfuglien’s mishap began the breakout but the Jets goaltender could’ve bailed his teammate out.
Down a game in the Western Conference finals, a reliable goaltender makes that save. Hellebuyck did not.
And that wasn’t even Hellebuyck’s worst mistake of Game 4. He bobbled a seemingly harmless shot from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, then allowed a rebound shot through the five-hole on Tomas Nosek.
In Game 3, Hellebuyck’s blunder behind the net turned into a James Neal game breaking goal. Remember, this was :12 seconds after Winnipeg tied the game.
Hellebuyck’s gaffe could be looked at as the turning point in the series. NBC’s Keith Jones agreed that the Jets goaltender has shown flaws in his game throughout the WCF.
Jones’ colleague Mike Milbury also questioned Hellebuyck’s performance in Game 3. NBC was highlighting Jonathan Marchessault’s cockiness, and Milbury was in disbelief reliving some of the soft goals Winnipeg’s goalie let in.
It’s tough to place blame on Hellebuyck for Winnipeg’s sloppy play over the past three games. However, in this series he hasn’t shown the ability to cover up mistakes like his counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights commit turnovers as well, but their goaltender is playing at higher level. Fleury is able to get Vegas out of tough jams, and rarely mishandles the puck.
#29 didn’t play enough regular season games to be playing Vezina hockey, but now, he’s playing Conn Smythe hockey. Fleury doesn’t want to wait for his trophy like Hellebuyck will. The Conn Smyth gets handed out after the Cup gets raised.