Jets grab 4-2 victory over Calgary Flames

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CALGARY — Reunited. And, for the Winnipeg Jets, it feels so good.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2021 (261 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CALGARY — Reunited. And, for the Winnipeg Jets, it feels so good.

Coach Paul Maurice went back to a familiar well on Saturday, hoping to spark his struggling squad. For at least one night, putting the trio of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor back together did the trick. Connor scored twice, including the game-winner with just less than five minutes left to play, as the Jets rallied for a 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames that comes as a massive relief.

“They need each other a little bit. And right now we needed that,” Maurice said of getting out the line blender after his team limped into Alberta with just five goals in the past five games, in which they’d gone 0-4-1.

Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck celebrates after Andrew Copp scored an empty-net goal against the Calgary Flames. Hellebuyck kept the Jets in the game early on his way to earning the win and making 34 saves Saturday night in Calgary. (Larry MacDougal / The Canadian Press)

Not to be overlooked was the play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who called out the entire team including himself following a dreadful 7-1 loss to Minnesota on Friday afternoon. The former Vezina Trophy winner backed up his strong words with a terrific performance. He made 34 saves, including a ton early when his fragile squad was at risk of getting snowed under.

“We needed our veteran guys, our best guys to do that for us tonight. He was outstanding in this game,” said Maurice. “I’m not saying we outplayed Calgary. They had a bunch of real good chances, we had some good chances. But our goalie was pretty damn good.”

Winnipeg improves to 10-7-4. Calgary, which began the night with points in seven straight games (5-0-2), falls to 12-4-5.

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (centre) celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames with Mark Scheifele (left) and Brenden Dillon during the third period. (Larry Mac Dougal / The Canadian Press)

“It’s easy to sulk and feel pretty crappy about the one (Friday) but we all came to play, we all put our big boy pants on and came to play,” said Scheifele. “And it was a lot of gutsy efforts, a lot of blocked shots, a lot of taking hits, made hits. That’s what it takes in this league.”

They rolled back the clock on Saturday at the Saddledome, celebrating all things ‘90s with retro music, graphics and videos. The Jets would love to turn the clock back a couple weeks to when they were 9-3-3 and sitting on top of the Central Division.

Consider this a step in the right direction, even if the fragile group couldn’t have got off to a worse start. Matthew Tkachuk opened the scoring just 26 seconds into the game, re-directing a terrific behind-the-back spin pass from Johnny Gaudreau.

Paul Stastny celebrates his goal against the Flames with Evgeny Svechnikov during the second period. (Larry MacDougal / The Canadian Press)

For all the talk following Friday’s drubbing in Minnesota — including Hellebuyck boldly declaring that enough was enough and “it’s on” — this is not what anyone had in mind. The shot clock read 6-0 Calgary, not even two minutes into the contest.

Things quickly went from bad to worse when Elias Lindholm made it 2-0 at 7:42, needing just seven seconds of power play time to bury a rebound. He somehow got behind Winnipeg’s defensive coverage and was left all alone in front of Hellebuyck, a common theme early in this season as the Jets flirt with the league’s worst penalty killing unit.

Evgeny Svechnikov was in the box for a reckless boarding penalty, one which is not going to endear him to the coaching staff. He also took a selfish double-minor against the Wild a day earlier, and that kind of undisciplined play could soon vault the young player right out of the lineup if it can’t be reigned in.

Nikolaj Ehlers, left, battles for the puck with Calgary Flames' Oliver Kylington during the second period. (Larry MacDougal / The Canadian Press)

No doubt this must have been feeling like deja vu for the players, with a potential long night in store against a red-hot Flames club. Winnipeg was probably lucky to only be down a pair. The ice was badly tilted early, and Hellebuyck made several big stops.

“Yeah, it very easily could have crept into our minds, but we were pretty resilient, stuck with it,” said Connor.

“It could have been easy to sit back, say, ‘Oh, it’s not our night again.’ Back-to-back, everything stacked up against us. That’s a great team, defensively, and they were running some pretty good streaks there. I think they had seven shutouts. Our leadership, we stayed positive throughout this whole stretch, focused on the next shift and that’s a big win coming back from 2-0.”

The first glimmer of hope appeared in the form of a strong shift from Connor, Scheifele and Wheeler, who took advantage of an extended shift against Calgary’s fourth line, pinned them in their own zone by cycling the puck and eventually cashed in when Wheeler fed Connor for his team-leading 13th at 16:26 of the first period.

It was just what the doctor ordered, not only for the Jets team, but a struggling Wheeler and Scheifele who simply haven’t looked the same since returning from five-game absences due to COVID-19 infections.

“I was excited. I’ve played a lot of games with those guys and we’ve had a lot of big games and we’ve had some fun together. And it was nice to get on the scoresheet, get some big goals,” Scheifele said of learning earlier in the day the band was back together.

“It was a lot of fun being back with the boys.”

The enjoyment level increased 4:50 into the middle frame when a Logan Stanley point shot was tipped by Svechnikov and stopped by Jacob Markstrom, only to have Paul Stastny poke home the loose puck for his fifth of the year.

Just like that, the Jets were no longer in chase mode. And they were moving like a team that suddenly had a much-needed dose of confidence, generating plenty of good looks as the period went on.

A huge opportunity came their way with just under five minutes left when Milan Lucic crushed Dylan DeMelo right on the numbers, leaving him bloodied. Lucic was given a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct, and Winnipeg’s struggling power play had a chance to make an impact.

But after more than three listless minutes in which they generated just two shots and zero quality chances, Neal Pionk negated the remainder by taking a holding penalty after losing his stick.

“We came back in the locker room there and just realized we have an opportunity here. It’s probably one of the best spots we’ve been in, going 2-2 into the third, in the last couple games,” said Connor.

“We stuck with it and look to build on what we can improve on and we came out with the right mentality in the third period.”

And it was Connor and his linemates who came through, finishing off a nifty passing play with Scheifele and Wheeler and as he fired a rocket past Markstrom at 15:09. Andrew Copp sealed the victory with an empty-netter with one minute left.

“It was huge, especially on a back-to-back against a good team like Calgary. Obviously, (the previous game) wasn’t the greatest but a response like that is so big for this team. And, you know, a great way to end this road trip. It definitely took a team effort,” said Scheifele.

“Especially (when) you go down two-rip early, a lot of bad thoughts go through your mind. But we stuck to it, got some big goals, stuck to it, killed some penalties. We just stuck with it and, you know, there’s a lot of character in this room. That was a big win.”

This was Winnipeg’s seventh straight game in which they played in a different time zone than the previous one. It was also their third game in four days, in their third different time zone, and included puck drops of 6 p.m. CST (Wednesday in Columbus). 2:30 p.m. CST (Friday in St. Paul) and now 9 p.m. CST, to accommodate Hockey Night In Canada.

“It’s a tough thing we’re going through right now. I won’t critique the specifics of the game, but the specifics of heart and staying in the fight. It’s so easy to fade away in that game,” said Maurice.

“The way it’s been going for us, it’s so hard to muster the fight to stay in the game and then, from our goaltender on out, after that they just scratched and clawed. So there’s plays that didn’t get executed, but that’s all minor to a huge win for us. To get beat as bad and as hard as we got beat, with the week that we had, we don’t have much in the tank here. We’re dragging out there. So, a real big win and we’re going to enjoy all of it.”

The Jets stayed overnight in Calgary and were to fly back to Winnipeg today. They’ll kick off a four-game homestand on Monday at Canada Life Centre when the Western Conference’s worst team, the Arizona Coyotes, come to town. New Jersey, Toronto and Carolina are the other visitors.

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 Sunday, November 28, 2021 12:01 AM CST: Hellebuyck made 34 saves.

Updated on Sunday, November 28, 2021 12:42 AM CST: Adds quotes.

Updated on Sunday, November 28, 2021 9:58 AM CST: Fixes typo.

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