The Winnipeg Jets weren’t supposed to be playing in the Western Conference finals. Of course, that also applies to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
But here the teams are, preparing for Saturday’s Game 1 in Winnipeg as they begin a best-of-7 series that will conclude with a bona fide “Cinderella” playing for the Stanley Cup.
And both teams are riding the stellar play of their hot goaltenders.
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck is a Vezina Trophy finalist after a regular season that included 44 wins and a 2.36 goals-against average.
Las Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury had a 2.24 GAA and 29 regular-season wins but has stepped his play up further in the postseason. Fleury leads the NHL with a 1.53 GAA, .951 save percentage and four shutouts this postseason while compiling an 8-2 record.
In fact, the 33-year-old Fleury has become a big deal in Las Vegas, something he wasn’t anticipating when he landed with the expansion club.
“I’m not looking for the spotlight; I’m not that kind of guy,” Fleury told reporters on Friday. “All I wanted was to keep playing and I wanted my team to do well. That’s all I care about.
“There was lots of unknowns going to this team — the talent, the organization, the players, seeing how we would do. Everything has turned out for the best with how much support we get from the fans, how much we’re winning, the consistency that the guys play with. I’m proud of where we are and happy I get a chance to be part of it.”
The 24-year-old Hellebuyck is a goalie on the rise and the Michigan native has done more than his part to get the Jets into the conference finals.
He has a 2.36 GAA, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts while going 8-4 in the playoffs. His is fresh off a 36-save performance in the just-concluded Game 7 of the second-round victory over the Nashville Predators.
Hellebuyck sees the stage he is on and reflects on his progress.
“I do look at it as a whole, and I’m very happy with how hard I worked, but I never really changed how hard I work,” Hellebuyck told reporters. “I just continued working the way I always did. I just believed in myself and got a whole new system and organization around me, and it just propelled me even more.”