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Hellebuyck believes he played his best hockey in first-round exit


Connor Hellebuyck opened his end-of-season media availability with a surprising evaluation of his effort in the Winnipeg Jets' 4-1 series loss to the Colorado Avalanche

"You're probably not going to believe when I say I was playing some of the best hockey of my career, but that's truly how I was feeling," the goaltender said on Thursday.

Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist this season, finished with a 2.39 goals against average (fourth in the NHL) and a .921 save percentage, good for second in the league this year.

Those numbers fell significantly in the playoffs, as he allowed 24 goals in five games for a .864 save percentage and a 5.23 GAA. 

"Not only was I playing some of my best hockey, but I was in that zone where you're not thinking, you're just playing, and that's what you're looking for, that's a dangerous thing in sports," he said. 

"To not be able to keep four goals off the board, it's heartbreaking."

The Jets kicked off the series with a wild back-and-forth 7-6 victory, but followed it up with four straight losses, allowing five or more goals in every game of the series. Winnipeg allowed five or more goals just seven times in the regular season. 

"You have to give the Colorado Avalanche some kudos for what they did, but looking back, I don't know if I even saw half of the pucks go in the net," Hellebuyck said.

"They did a great job, but for me to not be able to put my foot down on a single game is really heartbreaking because it's not typically how I do things."

Despite the positive review of his performance, Hellebuyck admitted that there is room for improvement for himself and his team.

"I don't want to tell you that I don't want to be better, I absolutely need to be better if we're going to win," he said.

"That's the playoffs right there, it's so tight, and if you give a guy open space, they're going to make the best of it ... We gave a little too much space." 

The early exit continues a recent trend for the Jets, who have advanced beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs twice in six tries since the 2017-18 season. 

Hellebuyck, who has traditionally performed well in the playoffs, conceded that after two straight first-round exits with an underwhelming performance, he may need to look at things differently moving forward.

"When I got pulled [after the second period] to give me more rest [in Game 4], it was like a flood of emotions that I had suppressed all series long and that was the realization that I can't do this alone," he said.

"That was the realization that I need to be part of this team more than I am ... I'm trying to put everything on my shoulders, and I don't think that's the right way to go about playoffs anymore."

Hellebuyck, 30, just finished the first of a seven-year contract signed with the Jets in October.