Hellebuyck makes 34 saves in 4-3 OT loss to Leafs


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They are Canada's two biggest hockey heavyweights right now, with star-studded lineups that can both pack a powerful offensive punch. And the latest battle between the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs and second-place Winnipeg Jets certainly lived up to lofty expectations – and likely left fans in both cities, and beyond, wanting even more.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2021 (740 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They are Canada’s two biggest hockey heavyweights right now, with star-studded lineups that can both pack a powerful offensive punch. And the latest battle between the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs and second-place Winnipeg Jets certainly lived up to lofty expectations – and likely left fans in both cities, and beyond, wanting even more.

Best-of-seven playoff series this spring, anyone? Who says no?

Leave it to the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, Auston Matthews, to deliver the knockout blow. His goal just 59 seconds into three-on-three overtime gave the home club a wild 4-3 victory Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.

Toronto improves to 19-7-2. Winnipeg falls to 16-8-2.

This one might feel like both a point lost, and a point earned, for the Jets. They began the third period holding a 2-1 advantage, gave up two straight goals to fall behind, tied it in the dying minutes, then came up short in extra time.

“Our goalie was outstanding, there’s no question. That should be the storyline. He stood on his head for us. But we also have a locker room full of guys who played their asses off, too,” said captain Blake Wheeler.

Connor Hellebuyck was, indeed, superb. The Jets, who love to play their own unique version of rope-a-dope, left the reigning Vezina Trophy winner to fend for himself on numerous occasions. And he was almost always up to the challenge, turning aside not one, not two, but three different Toronto breakaways and delivering enough “How did he do that?” saves to fill a lengthy highlight reel.

“Me personally, I stole a lot of goals tonight,” is how the always candid Hellebuyck summed it up after the game.

Yeah, no kidding. The Jets were outshot 38-27 (shot attempts were 73-42). High-danger chances were recorded by Natural Stat Trick as 21-5, while scoring chances of all kinds were registered as 45-21. In other words, the ice was routinely tilted against Winnipeg. As often is the case. And yet, they came within a whisker of walking away with two points.

“Yeah it kind of stinks. We did some good things and we have some things to improve on,” said Hellebuyck, who was also brilliant in Tuesday’s 4-3 regulation victory over the same Toronto team that kicked off this three-game mini-series.

Hellebuyck was asked if he felt like he got “hung out to dry” by his teammates — and was quick to shoot down the suggestion.

“I’m never going to use those words. I did my job. The guys in front of me got us to OT, so they clearly did their job. Not every night is going to be perfect. Not every night is going to be defensive wins, not every night you’re going to get the best goaltending. That’s what I love about this team. We have it all and we can do it all,” he said.

“This group shows character and I’m really excited for the future here.”

The Jets are now six points behind the Maple Leafs. Toronto has 28 games remaining on their schedule, while Winnipeg has 30. That includes seven more head-to-head meetings, including the rubber match, for now, on Saturday night.

“They’re a good team over there, too. We knew they were going to come with their best game. Any time you can take a team to OT, it closes the gap a little bit more. It’s a small victory, but obviously in this league we want to win. We’re not cherishing the point, but it’s better than not getting one,” said Hellebuyck.

Winnipeg landed the first punch in this one at 16:19 of the first period when Pierre-Luc Dubois stole a puck in the neutral zone and made a terrific feed to Nikolaj Ehlers who wired a shot off the crossbar and in under fellow Danish countryman Frederik Andersen.

Mitch Marner tied the game at 3:14 of the second period, pouncing on a loose puck that hit a Jets defender in front of the net and sweeping it by Hellebuyck. But Ehlers restored the lead at 10:50, converting on a two-on-one with linemate Kyle Connor for his team-leading 13th of the year.

William Nylander, who had been robbed three different times earlier in the game including on a breakaway, tied it at 6:29 of the final frame following a slick pass from John Tavares. Toronto took its first lead of the night at 12:39 as the Jets lost coverage a wide-open Ilya Mikheyev, who converted Alex Kerfoot’s pass from the slot.

Just when it looked like Winnipeg might lose for the first time in regulation after carrying a lead into the third period — they were 8-0-1 prior to Thursday — Ehlers set up Paul Stastny for the net-front tip at 17:34.

Which set the stage for a blink-and-you-might-miss it overtime session.

As he’s done successfully in recent weeks, Jets coach Paul Maurice opted to start three forwards. This time it was Wheeler, Stastny and Mark Scheifele. Maurice cited the fact Scheifele was 12-for-19 in faceoffs on the night, including winning the three-on-three draw, while Dubois struggled at just 4-for-12.

It nearly paid off, too — especially after Stastny got away with a blatant slash which broke Morgan Rielly’s stick in the Toronto zone. But the Jets just missed converting, the puck came the other way, and Matthews made no mistake after Rielly, armed with a fresh new twig, set him up for his NHL-leading 21st of the campaign.

“I think it was a lot of back and forth. Bucky played a hell of a game. He was absolutely unreal again. But yeah, it sucks right now,” Ehlers said of the end result. Despite a big offensive night with two goals and an assist, he pointed the finger of blame at himself, Connor and Dubois.

“Defensively we weren’t strong enough; we were on the ice for all three of those goals (in regulation) and that sucks,” he said. His line would have got the chance to have the last laugh, as they were up next to come out. But it ended too quickly as Winnipeg suffered its first overtime loss of the year after winning the first five.

“You know there is going to be big chances either way. So you never know. But you’ve just gotta be mentally (ready), and you’ve just gotta be ready to step on the ice and go out and make a difference. So three-on-three, it’s fun. But (Thursday night) it’s not fun,” said Ehlers.


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.


Updated on Thursday, March 11, 2021 10:26 PM CST: Fixes headline

Updated on Thursday, March 11, 2021 10:30 PM CST: Adds photos

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