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Bowness says Jets must step up in front of Vezina nominee Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck Valeri Nichushkin Winnipeg Jets Colorado Avalanche Connor Hellebuyck Valeri Nichushkin - The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck’s coach and teammates believe he deserves the Vézina Trophy he was nominated for on Monday.

They also know their elite goaltender deserves more help in front of him if the Winnipeg Jets are to avoid being bounced out of the NHL playoffs in Game 5 at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

The Jets have lost three straight and are down 3-1 in their best-of-seven opening-round series against the Avalanche.

“He is No. 1 for me. It’s very well deserved,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said of Hellebuyck on Monday.

“He is the backbone. Every great team has a great goaltender and, listen, this guy is a great goaltender and he deserves it. I just spoke with him about it and he’s pretty excited but he’s more worried about tomorrow night, right? He’s focusing on that.”

Hellebuyck was nominated for the league’s top-goalie award for the second straight year and fourth time in his career. He captured the hardware in 2020.

Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky are the other finalists.

Hellebuyck posted a 37-19-4 record with a 2.39 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts. He won the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltender (minimum 25 games played) on the team with the fewest goals allowed.

Now he leads all post-season netminders in goals against with 19, but no one is blaming him for the team’s poor performance.

Backup Laurent Brossoit replaced Hellebuyck to start the third period Sunday when Winnipeg trailed 4-1 in what eventually was a 5-1 loss.

“I gave him a little bit of a breather in the third period last night and to put a little more onus on the players in front of him have to play better,” Bowness said. “That’s why we made that (change). It had absolutely nothing to do with his play at all.”

Jets defenceman Neal Pionk agreed.

“We have the best goalie in the league and we got to play better in front of him. So plain and simple,” Pionk said. “We got to give up less chances, block more shots and compete a little harder in front of him.”


Bowness had a better-than-expected update on forward Vladislav Namestnikov, who had a puck hit him under his visor after teammate Nate Schmidt’s shot went off a stick.

Trainers helped him off the ice and he was taken to a Denver hospital.

“He has a fractured cheekbone,” Bowness said. “There’s no orbital damage but they kept him overnight and he’s on his way back (to Winnipeg).

“I sent him a text last night and he answered this morning and said he’s feeling better.”

Bowness was asked if Namestnikov might play Tuesday wearing a helmet with a full cage.

“Listen, nothing would surprise me with (Namestnikov),” he replied, adding he’ll never rule anything out.

Jets captain Adam Lowry described the sound of the puck hitting Namestnikov and seeing the pool of blood as “terrifying.”

“I think, first and foremost, you’re hoping that it avoids his eye. You know there’s going to be some damage,” Lowry said.

“From all the reports, we still haven’t seen him, but from all the reports he certainly avoided the worst.”

Bowness updated Winnipeg’s other injuries and said lineup changes will be made for Tuesday's critical match.

Forward Morgan Barron has been out since the team’s second-last game of the regular season with a lower-body injury, still hasn’t skated and won’t play Tuesday, he said.

Veteran defenceman Brenden Dillon hasn’t been ruled out after a skate blade sliced his left hand in last Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Avs.

“He’d play with two broken hands if he could, if we let him,” Bowness said.

“We’ll make the right decision based on what’s best for him. We’re not going put him out there unless we’re 100 per cent sure there can be no more damage done.”


Bowness said his team isn’t winning enough battles and he wants his players’ intensity to ramp up against the 2022 Stanley Cup-champion Avalanche.

“You can make all of the adjustments that you want, if the intensity and everything else isn’t there, it’s going to go for naught,” he said.

Lowry said the tight-knit group can improve.

“I think it's one of those things you can't look at the task as being so unmanageable,” he said. “You have to have some belief. And I believe we have a lot of belief in our group and our ability to get out of this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.