Breakaway a heck of a break for Jets

Scheifele pots winner with seconds left in OT

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Blake Wheeler didn’t actually see the finished product but figured something good was happening. Indeed, there was.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/03/2022 (249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Blake Wheeler didn’t actually see the finished product but figured something good was happening. Indeed, there was.

Mark Scheifele picked up a loose puck, cruised in and scored the game-winning goal with just 9.7 seconds left in overtime to lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 2-1 triumph over the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night.

The goal was Scheifele’s second of the contest and 26th of the 2021-22 season.

CP Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) and Josh Morrissey (44) during NHL action in Winnipeg on Sunday March 27, 2022. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

Wheeler dug the puck out from a scrum along the boards near the Coyotes bench and chipped it up ice. His centre did the rest.

“I was desperately trying to get out of the zone. I was cooked there at the end and normally Scheifs is busting loose for those…,” explained Wheeler.

“Good anticipation, smart player,” Scheifele interjected.

“I just whacked it and I heard the crowd go nuts, so I figured something good was gonna happen, just glad it worked out,” Wheeler added.

The Central Division squad picked up two crucial points as it continues to push for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

The Jets trail the Vegas Golden Knights by just two points, with a game in hand. But they’re also a point back of the Dallas Stars, who have played three fewer games.

CP Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) during the first period. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg improved to 32-25-10 and wrapped up a week-long home stand 3-1-0, with earlier wins over Vegas and Columbus and a pitiful defeat to the Ottawa Senators jammed in between.

Arizona is 20-41-5 and occupies the NHL basement.

Earlier, Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka denied Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor – not once, not twice but three times – before Josh Morrissey and Wheeler worked the puck to Scheifele.

“Vejmelka stood on his head all night, so (I) just tried to keep it simple,” Scheifele said. “It’s nice him being a right-handed goalie, usually that’s glove side, so it’s nice to feel having the blocker on that side so I just tried to shoot it and hope it went in.”

Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry went with the all-forward trio of Connor, Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois to start OT and followed with Wheeler, Scheifele and Morrissey. Only blue-liner Neal Pionk spotted in briefly. Starting netminder Connor Hellebuyck who made five stops in a high-octane fourth period, finishing with 28 stops on the night.

“We found a way to win a hockey game. When you’re running three forwards, I like that look. I’ve got a couple other guys that we can use. But I like the fact we had some great looks with the six guys, and then I rolled P(ionk) in for one spot. I just liked the look,” said Lowry.

CP Winnipeg Jets' Neal Poink (4) collides with Arizona Coyotes' Alex Galchenyuk (17) in front of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the second period. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

The ‘Yotes, a bit of a rag-tag bunch with just a couple of household names, put in a gritty performance for the second time this season. And the legend of Vejmelka continues to grow in these parts.

He of the 46-save shutout in late November at Canada Life Centre nearly backstopped his squad to another win in downtown Winnipeg, finishing with 38 saves including six in OT.

On Jan. 4, he stopped 46 of 48 shots he faced in a 3-1 loss to the visiting Jets.

“This guy’s played hard. I don’t know what it is in Winnipeg but he’s played outstanding here. We lost the first game that we faced him 1-0 and had 46 shots. And he played outstanding,” added Lowry. “This was another game where he played outstanding. We’re grateful we’re not going to see him again.”

Vejmelka was dialed in early, stopping Wheeler on a partial breakaway just 20 seconds into the game. The rookie from the Czech Republic also thwarted Nikolaj Ehlers from in close and prevented Scheifele from opening the scoring with just 67 seconds left in the opening frame.

But Scheifele wouldn’t be denied later in the shift, taking advantage of Vejmelka’s only real miscue of the night with 14 seconds left in the first.

CP Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) makes as save as Winnipeg Jets' Evgeny Svechnikov (71) tries to control the rebound in front of Phil Kessel (81) during the second period. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

He let a rebound pop out that bounced off the Scheifele and sailed in for the veteran centre’s 25th goal of the season. Paul Stastny took the initial shot while defenceman Ville Heinola, playing in place of Logan Stanley, drew the second assist.

Heinola’s skate also stopped a sure goal for the Coyotes early in the period.

The young Finn had a sound outing, his first since mid-February.

“Simple, used his feet, made the great first pass. He sees the game real well at the offensive blue line and was able to keep some plays alive,” said Lowry. “He got pucks through and he helped create some offence.”

The Jets appeared to increase their lead with just over eight minutes left in the second period when Adam Lowry redirected a pass from Brenden Dillon behind Vejmelka. But Coyotes bench boss Andre Tourigny issued a coach’s challenge, believing the puck hit the netting prior to the goal.

He was right, the goal was erased, and 22 seconds were added to the clock.

CP Arizona Coyotes' Shayne Gostisbehere (14) hits the post with a shot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the overtime period. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

The Jets went through the motions early in the third and it proved costly. Nick Ritchie stuffed in his ninth of the season on a goal-mouth scramble at 6:17. Hellebuyck was down on all fours but didn’t have the puck smothered.

It was only Arizona’s 18th shot of the night on the Jets starter. The amped-up visitors went on to outshoot their hosts 11-8 in the final frame.

Mason Appleton was buried with 2:15 left by Lawson Crouse that saved a goal, the Jets went on the power play but couldn’t connect.

Winnipeg was stagnant on the power play (0-for-2), failing to get any real zone time on a chance in the second period and then sending just one shot at Vejmelka on the late try.

Ehlers had an interesting night. In the first period, he inadvertently blasted the puck at Hellebuyck while attempting to fire the puck around the boards, and also sent a couple of passes to wide-open spaces with nary a Jet in sight.

He also missed the net repeatedly scoring chances, finishing with 17 shot attempts and eight that needed Vejmelka’s attention.

CP Winnipeg Jets fans cheer on their team against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

The Jets head east this week for back-to-back games in Buffalo (Wednesday, 6 p.m.) and Toronto (Thursday, 6 p.m.) before returning home to host the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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