WINNIPEG — Pat Maroon figures his grandfather was watching him from heaven when he set up Tyler Bozak's winning goal in the St. Louis Blues' 2-1 playoff victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
Maroon battled for the puck in the corner and then sent a backhand pass from behind the net out to Bozak in the high slot, whose quick shot went by Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck with 2:05 left in the third period.
"He was watching above so obviously that was for him," Maroon said of his 95-year-old grandfather, who passed away on Tuesday. "It's been emotional, tough days for me. But being with the guys and having them by my side has been really good."
David Perron also had a goal for St. Louis early in the third and rookie Jordan Binnington made 24 saves to claim Game 1 of their Western Conference, best-of-seven opening-round series.
"I had a lot of chances tonight so I knew the puck was kind of following me around a bit," Bozak said. "It's always fun when that happens, so after the few I missed it was definitely nice to get one in there."
Patrik Laine scored late in the first period and Hellebuyck stopped 24 shots for the Jets, who host Game 2 on Friday.
"Real tight, and that's what we expect," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said of the contest. "We expect it's going to go seven, and seven real close games. It didn't go our way tonight."
Winnipeg lost nine times during the regular season when leading after the second period, tying them with Florida for that dubious distinction.
The netminders played a big role in keeping the game a tight affair, even though Binnington took an early tumble to the ice.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele was called for interference 34 seconds into the first period. As he was skating to the back of the St. Louis net, he banged into Binnington, who was behind the net and returning to his crease. Blues forward Brayden Schenn shoved Scheifele hard in retaliation, but only drew boos from fans and not a penalty.
"It's playoff hockey. I can take a hit," Binnington said.
Laine sent a blast from the high slot past Binnington at 13:38. The Finnish forward only had one goal in his last 19 games of the regular season.
"We've had a couple of those where they score the winning goal in the last two minutes," Laine said. "So it's always tough, but that's how it goes sometimes.
"We still had two minutes to tie the game but couldn't do it. We've got to focus on the next game."
On the eve of the series, Laine said his confidence wasn't high and he planned to shoot every puck he could at Binnington to try to make the rookie nervous. The 20-year-old also said the Jets "have better players in this locker-room than they have" and when they're on their game "we're just a better team."
Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien helped divert a St. Louis goal early in the second period. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko fired a shot at Hellebuyck and the puck trickled out from under him toward the goal line, but Byfuglien swooped in and slapped it out of the crease.
Laine rang a shot off the post just over one minute into the third, followed by Perron's point shot through traffic that went by Hellebuyck to tie it up at 4:05. The Winnipeg netminder blocked a Bozak shot late in the period and then couldn't stop the winner.
Hellebuyck was pulled right away for the extra attacker, but Binnington slid across his crease to make an impressive pad save on a Scheifele one-timer with 12.4 seconds left.
"The mindset was just compete to the end and give the team a chance to win," Binnington said."That buzzer couldn't have come sooner."
Winnipeg (47-30-5) and St. Louis (45-28-9) tied for second in the Central Division with 99 points. The Jets earned home-ice advantage with three more combined regulation/overtime victories than the Blues.
Last season, the Jets soared into the playoffs on a 9-1 run and made it to the Western Conference final, losing to Vegas in five games. The Blues missed the playoffs.