The Winnipeg Jets aren’t really in a position to puff out their chests and feel good about how many pucks they pump past goalies.
Far too many are deposited in their net and, thus, the club ranked 28th in the NHL in goals allowed will undoubtedly watch the Stanley Cup playoffs from the comfort of their couches.
Sunday, the league’s seventh-highest-scoring team built a four-goal lead on the struggling Minnesota Wild through about 30 minutes and then, inexplicably, shut down the attack, mismanaged their defensive responsibilities and left goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to fend, unsuccessfully, for himself.
After surrendering four consecutive goals in the second period, the Jets pushed back in the final frame and defenceman Josh Morrissey’s point blast beat Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with less than eight minutes remaining to lift the hosts to a 5-4 victory at the MTS Centre.
The Wild had a power-play for most of the final two minutes and then pulled Dubynk for a sixth attacker but couldn’t connect.
Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson, who replaced Hellebuyck to begin the third period, made a brilliant pad save off Wild blue-liner Matt Dumba with just seconds left.
"I was happy with the way I played and I was really happy with the way the guys responded," said Hutchinson, who won just his fifth game of the season. "We didn’t have the second period we were looking for but we were able to put it behind us, which is a huge step forward. We controlled most of the third period and that’s what we aimed to do."
It’s five times a charm for the Jets (32-33-7), who dropped four previous meetings with their Central Division rivals this season.
The Wild (43-22-6) lost their fifth in a row. Minnesota, second in the Western Conference, hadn’t lost that many in a row since the final five games of the 2015-16 campaign.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said his squad enjoyed the early onslaught a bit too much.
"We had some ease in terms of our attack. We scored on some plays into the middle and we thought we would try that more than the basics of what we do well," said Maurice. "We scored five again, so there’s lots of confidence offensively with our group. They like to show that confidence regardless of the situation that they’re in."
Winnipeg stormed out with first-period goals by left-winger Andrew Copp, with his ninth, and centre Adam Lowry, with his 12th, and defenceman Ben Chiarot, who bounced in his second of the year off Minnesota defenceman Jonas Brodin’s leg. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien beefed up the lead with his 12th on a wicked back-hand shot early in second period.
Forwards Chris Stewart, with a pair, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild before the middle frame was over.
Maurice maintained the conversation with the group during the second intermission was rather blunt.
"You’ve got to live in the moment that you’re in. If you spend a whole lot of time thinking about how you got there, you’re not taking care of the things you need to do," he said. "We were good at the start of the third. We had three of the first four chances and there was some good action there. We got back into our game.
"You can’t always — I’m not sure if control is the right word — but certainly if you’re constantly assessing your last five minutes, you’re not paying attention to the minute you’re playing."
Hellebuyck, making his 16th straight start, allowed four goals on 35 shots through 40 minutes, while Hutchinson was perfect with 13 saves as the Wild pressed for the tying goal.
Hutchinson hadn’t won since Dec. 22 when Winnipeg upended the Canucks 4-1 in Vancouver.
"Good on him," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who chipped in two assists. His second point of the afternoon was the 500th point of his career.
"When you get your number called, you got to be ready. He did a heck of a job."
Dubynk was uncommonly average, allowing five goals on 21 shots. He surrendered Copps’ tally on the first shot of the game, while Lowry beat him through the five-hole on the Jets’ third shot.
Coyle ripped his 16th goal of the year at 9:23 of the second period to put Minnesota on the board. He took a pass from centre Zach Parise, who grabbed the puck behind the net after Jets blue-liner Mark Stuart and Hellebuyck got crossed up.
Granlund, with his 25th, and two by Stewart, his 12th and 13th, evened the score 4-4 after 40 minutes. Stewart simply outmuscled Winnipeg defenders and then swiped pucks that dribbled through Hellebuyck.
"They’re one of the best teams in the Western Conference, there’s no mistaking that," Wheeler said. "You give them an inch and all the sudden it’s a 4-4 ball game."
Lowry said even after the big lead evaporated, the mood remained positive.
"You’re not down by any goals. You’re going into the third period tied at home. You still have a good chance to win the game," he said. "We did a good job of regrouping in here and realizing that it’s not the end of the world. We had some time to gather ourselves and get back to the way we had been playing.
"It wasn’t the prettiest win but we were able to find a way."
Hutchinson, who has played behind Hellebuyck and Ondrej Pavelec for two months, admitted it’s tough being somewhat of a forgotten figure.
"It’s definitely been tough mentally. It’s really frustrating at times. It’s one of those things," he said. "You have to show up at the rink every day ready to work and battle through it. I’m trying my best to do that."
Veteran centre Eric Staal was held pointless for the Wild in the 1,000th game of his NHL career.
Winnipeg hosts the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
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