WINNIPEG - It took the longest game in Winnipeg Jets 2.0 franchise history, but the Jets are moving on to the second round after a thrilling 4-3 triple overtime win in Game 4 over the Edmonton Oilers.
There were lead changes, highlight reel goals, shot blocks out of sheer exhaustion, and in the end, the hero was Kyle Connor.
The speedy forward dug deep into the after burners 6:52 into the third overtime, taking Neal Pionk's stretch pass in the neutral zone and, using the open space in front of him with fresh Oilers defencemen giving chase, beat Mike Smith under the arm to end the marathon.
"(Pionk) made a great play. He was on McDavid there, just to get his stick on it and whack it up the boards and I saw it coming and tried to skate as fast as I can," said Connor. "It's our mentality, the whole overtime just get pucks to the net so just shot that one and, yeah, that one feels pretty good."
No doubt it felt good. Especially because, as Blake Wheeler knows all too well, the hardest game to win in any series is the fourth one - no matter what the series lead.
"I've been on the wrong side of being up 3-0 and losing it all, so for me, it was kind of like, you just don't want to lose," said Wheeler. "We played four Stanley Cup playoff games in six days. It's not often you see a break of breakaway in triple overtime to solve it but, tell you what, we had the right guy on the breakaway. We're pretty gassed but we're pumped up in our room."
In fact, on a night where the Jets had a number of special performances, Connor's line with Wheeler and Mark Scheifele combined for six points.
All three touched the puck before Scheifele's second goal of the night - which tied the game at three in the third - and was just an example of the chemistry the trio has had for a long time. They may have been apart for parts of this season, but head coach Paul Maurice knew he'd find his way back to them.
"There's not a lot of people that can play at the level they can play at in terms of the speed. That's what separates them," said Maurice. "It goes right to Kyle Connor's game-winning goal. He's got a specific skill-set and he needs certain people to play with to kind of get to that. Mark can, God he can make an awful lot of great plays at speed. Blake, look at this assist numbers over the years, in the last four or five years - he's world-class."
That world-class trio went to work in the opening period. An early holding penalty on Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson put the Jets on the power play, and it was the man Larsson held up - Scheifele - that would get the game's opening tally. Jets captain Blake Wheeler threaded a pass through the Edmonton penalty killers to Scheifele in the left circle, and number 55 made no mistake, blistering the one-timer past a diving Mike Smith for a 1-0 Jets lead 6:16 into the first.
That lead lasted just 1:17, as Connor McDavid tied the game with his first of the series on a wrap around.
McDavid finished with four points in the series after being held off the scoresheet in Game 1 and Game 2.
Night after night, the defensive pair that had the assignment of slowing down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl - the top two point producers in the NHL's regular season - was Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo.
"Those two guys were fantastic in the series," said Maurice.
"For Josh, this series was hopefully a preview, but a next level for him. He defended against the best player in the world and he put up points and he scores the tying goal last night. So he now maybe has the kind of full evolution of where he's going to get to as a player."
The Jets took that lead back before the end of the opening frame though. Shortly after winning a puck battle along the left-wing boards, Mason Appleton went to the net and was rewarded, as he deflected Morrissey's point shot past Smith to restore Winnipeg's 2-1 cushion.
Edmonton battled back 3:44 into the second, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins followed up his own wrist shot and got to the rebound, lifting a backhand over Connor Hellebuyck to tie things at two.
The Oilers took their first lead of the game on an Alex Chiasson power play goal with 3:23 to go in the second.
That was the last puck to get by Hellebuyck, who made 17 of his 37 saves in the overtime periods.
"I feel like I've been saying this all year, that this team and these guys can do everything," said Hellebuyck. "We need to shut down a game, we shut down a game, we need to score, we score. We need a comeback with 10 minutes left in the third, we do that. Being behind these guys has been a pleasure and it's been fun to watch."
Hellebuyck got to watch his team rally in front of him yet again.
With 13:59 to go in regulation, the Jets got back on even footing. A turnover in the Edmonton zone, some patience from Wheeler, and a nice dish from Connor set Scheifele up in the left circle, and he wired another one-timer by Smith. This one was a laser beam into the top right corner for Scheifele's second of the night.
"We expect a lot of ourselves, especially with the guys they have on the other side, like Connor and Leon," Scheifele said of his line. "You have to bring it every single night or they'll make you pay. The biggest player of all, that kept us in there, was this player beside me (Hellebuyck). It was a full team effort but we had a lot of guys step up and it was a team win."
Two overtime periods produced nothing but a 17-14 edge in shots for the Jets.
That set the stage for Connor's heroics to complete the sweep of the Oilers in triple overtime.
Every game was a grind, decided by one shot, or one deflection.
In Game 1, it was a Dominic Toninato deflection.
In Game 2, Paul Stastny was the overtime hero.
In Game 3, Nikolaj Ehlers' laser beam pushed the Oilers to the brink of elimination.
In Game 4, it was Connor.
Now, it's about rest.
"We had faith in our room," said Scheifele.
"Whenever that adversity hit - they scored a goal, or we took a penalty, kill off a five-on-three - whatever that was, we stuck with it. I think it just speaks volumes for this room, the character we have in this room. Guys just never get down. We don't get down on ourselves. We stuck with our game plan and because of that we came out on top."