Eakin gets to be a hometown hero

Winnipeg boy pots winner, first goal since coming over from Knights

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You can add “hometown boy plays role of hockey hero” to the ever-expanding list of juicy storylines following these Winnipeg Jets around.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2020 (885 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You can add “hometown boy plays role of hockey hero” to the ever-expanding list of juicy storylines following these Winnipeg Jets around.

Winnipegger Cody Eakin picked a heck of a time to score his first goal since coming over last month in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, breaking a third-period tie with the game-winning goal Monday night at Bell MTS Place.

The 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes — coming after the Jets trailed 2-0 through 20 minutes — vaults them back into a Western Conference playoff spot, while also putting a serious dent in the post-season dreams of the desert dogs. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Cody Eakin, centre, celebrates his first goal as a Winnipeg Jet against the Arizona Coyotes with Patrik Laine, left to right, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nathan Beaulieu and Tucker Poolman during the third period in Winnipeg on Monday.

“That’s a big game by us. Being down two to start. They’re a hungry team. We ended up stopping the bleeding there and finishing it off the right way,” said Eakin. “It felt great. The crowd was loud and into it. It’s been a while, so to chip in in that way, you’re doing good work out there.”

Winnipeg improves to 36-28-6 by winning a third straight game, all on home ice. Arizona falls to 33-29-8, now four points back of the Jets with time quickly running out on their schedule.

Eakin scored 22 goals last year with the Golden Knights but was stuck on just four tallies this year. The 28-year-old had chipped in three assists in his first seven games with Winnipeg, including one on the tying goal earlier in the night, while centring the second line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets’ Adam Lowry and Arizona Coyotes' Lawson Crouse chuck knuckles during the first period.

On his goal at 11:33 of the final frame, Eakin won the scrambled draw, then found himself all alone in front of the net after Ehlers kicked the puck in his direction. 

“If you watch him around the soccer circle before the game he’s pretty sharp with his feet and his kick. He’s on point, so you can chalk that up to that,” Eakin said of the impressive foot feat. He patiently waited out Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper before backhanding the puck over him. 

“I wasn’t sure which way I was going to go but obviously with the momentum just carrying it across he sprawled out on his stomach. I took it a little far but was able to still sneak it in,” he said. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele keeps his eyes on the puck while Arizona Coyotes' Jason Demers defends during the second period.

The game certainly ended a lot better than it started for the Jets. Arizona forward Nick Schmaltz scored at 15:50 and again at 19:58 to give the visitors an early advantage.

“Just take a deep breath, relax, come back recharged. I thought other than the goals we had a lot of good things in the first. It wasn’t really indicative of the score. But yeah, take a deep breath, come back, lots of hockey to play,” Eakin said of the mindset going into the first intermission.

Ehlers cut the deficit in half with a dazzling offensive-zone rush that ended with his 25th goal of the season 2:13 into the middle frame. Defenceman Tucker Poolman hit him in stride with a great pass. 

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets’ Tucker Poolman celebrates scoring the game tying goal against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper during the second period.

“At this point you’re trying to get as close to playoff-style hockey as possible. And that’s keeping it simple. So I guess I’m trying to use my speed as much as I can in the right places and the right situations. And it’s been working. It’s something I’ve got to continue doing. It feels good,” said Ehlers. 

Poolman then notched the equalizer at 17:27 of the period, activating from the point and going hard to the front of the net, where he banged in a rebound created by an Eakin scoring chance. It’s his fourth goal of the season, and second in the past three games.

“I think all the defencemen, they tell us to follow up the play. Right now I guess the puck is just finding me back over there. Just one of those things you can’t explain,” said Poolman.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck makes a save as he is screened by Arizona Coyotes' Derek Stepan during the third period.

The Jets carried that momentum into the final period, getting the Eakin goal followed by a Mark Scheifele empty-netter with 36 seconds to play. 

Winnipeg iced their strongest lineup of the season Monday, with Adam Lowry returning after a 20-game injury absence. Bryan Little is the only regular out right now, and he’s been limited to just seven games.

Lowry made an immediate impact against Arizona, with two big hits in the first period and winning a one-sided fight.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets’ Cody Eakin beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Lyubushkin for the game-winning goal during the third period.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said getting the shutdown centre back is key to how he rolls his lines. 

“It changes the way the defence views our team. When the puck gets put in deep, there’s a line out there looking to get a piece of you and that changes the way you view the game. Having that element, you start to see other players — I think we have video of Jack Roslovic throwing a hit tonight — so it brings other guys into the fight,” said Maurice. 

With just a dozen games left on the schedule, Maurice said there’s no time to savour this triumph. 

“It’s done. The only benefits to wins right now is you don’t have to feel sad that you lost. It’s a big win but it will be a quiet room 10 minutes after it’s over. Everybody’s on to the next one,” he said. 

The Jets now hit the road for a big three-game trip through Western Canada, which begins Wednesday night in Edmonton. That will be followed by weekend stops in Calgary and Vancouver. All three opponents are in the mix for the same playoff spot the Jets are fighting for. 

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Monday, March 9, 2020 10:07 PM CDT: Adds photos

Updated on Monday, March 9, 2020 11:38 PM CDT: Full write through, updates headline

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