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Jets full of praise for Hellebuyck: 'He’s the best in the world'

Winnipeg Jets celebrate Winnipeg Jets celebrate - The Canadian Press

Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves Sunday as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 to jump the Colorado Avalanche and take the third spot in the Central Division.

Hellebuyck started both games over the weekend for the Jets, making 44 saves in a 5-4 road win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

“He’s the best in the world for a reason,” defenceman Morgan Barron said of Hellebuyck Sunday. “He’s able to do that. He just sticks to his process. We have full faith in him. He made some huge saves down the stretch tonight.”

The Jets were outshot in every period by the Lightning Sunday and 35-22 on the night, but Hellebuyck - the 2020 Vezina winner - as able to outduel 2019 Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper noted that Hellebuyck was aided in that fight by the iron around him. 

“We might have had four or five posts today and we might have had one with four seconds left,” Cooper said. “A goalie’s best friend is the post, and it was Hellebuyck’s tonight.”

With the back-to-back wins, Hellebuyck improved his record to 29-20-2 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. He is tied with St. Louis Blues netminder Jordan Binnington with a league-high 51 starts on the season.

The 29-year-old is fourth in save percentage among goalies with at least 20 starts this season, behind Boston Bruins standout Linus Ullmark (.938), Minnesota Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson (.931) and division-rival Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars (.920).

Hellebuyck won the Vezina in 2020 after posting a 31-21-5 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average.

ContentId(1.1930656): Button: 'Jets should be hugging Hellebuyck right now'

Jets keep pace playoff race

The Jets moved back into the top three of the Central Division with Sunday's win, owning a one-point lead over the Avalanche, who have three games in hand.

Among the teams outside the playoff picture, Winnipeg holds a six-point lead over the Nashville Predators (three games in hand) and Calgary Flames (equal in games played).

“It’s huge,” associate coach Scott Arniel said Sunday of the Jets starting their road trip 2-0. “Two tough barns, especially the last couple of years with how good Florida is. It’s a real desperate time for us; we have to keep pace with everyone in our division and conference.

"We knew it was going to be a tough trip, and it’s off to a great start.”

The Jets will close out their three-game stint on the east coast Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes before returning home to host Ullmark and the NHL-best Bruins.