Kings triumph in goaltenders duel

Hellebuyck keeps Jets in game as playoff hopes fade

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At a time when the Winnipeg Jets need to be racking up wins to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, they’ve instead started trending in the opposite direction.

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At a time when the Winnipeg Jets need to be racking up wins to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, they’ve instead started trending in the opposite direction.

Winnipeg’s post-season aspirations took another damaging hit Saturday night, as the Jets missed out on a crucial two points in a 3-2 loss to the L.A. Kings in front of 14,067 at Canada Life Centre.

The Jets had started to turn a corner at the end of February, with an 11-4-1 run moving them back into the playoff picture, if just barely. Winnipeg has now lost two straight, including a 7-3 road defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night.

L.A. Kings goalie Cal Petersen had a hot hand and a lot of help from players such as Alex Edler Saturday, turning away all but two shots by Pierre-Luc Dubois and his Winnipeg Jets teammates at Canada Life Centre. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

As it stands, the Jets will need to win most, if not all, of their 12 remaining games to secure a playoff spot.

“You get pressure every night. The biggest thing that we have to do and it’s a cliche, it’s whatever, but we have to win our next game. We can’t look at having to win out,” Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry said. “We can’t look at what lays ahead. We’ll take tomorrow, we’ll reset, we’ll come back Monday, we’ll get back to work, we’ll get ready for our next game, and that’s the mindset that we’ve had to keep. We’ve put ourselves in this position and you have to give yourself a chance by winning your games.”

With Saturday’s loss, the Jets fall to 33-27-10, four points shy of the Vegas Golden Knights for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Dallas Stars are also three points up on the Jets and had yet to play the San Jose Sharks at press time.

As for the Kings, they improved to 38-23-10 with the victory and remain in second place in the Pacific Division. L.A. is three points up on the Edmonton Oilers and three points back of the first-place Calgary Flames.

Connor Hellebuyck, who got the night off against the Leafs, made 35 saves in the loss. The Jets No. 1 goaltender did his best to keep his team in a position to win all night, keeping the puck out of the Jets net for the final 37 minutes of the game.

Cal Petersen, however, was also terrific on this night, ending his evening with 25 saves for the win. Much of his work came in the third period, with the Jets pressing to find the equalizer. Winnipeg was also 0-for-6 on the power play, with Peterson the team’s best penalty killer.

CP Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck can’t stop the shot from the point by L.A. Kings' Anze Kopitar (not shown), as Jets’ Dylan DeMelo and Kings’ Adrian Kempe look on during the first period. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

“I thought the second half of the game, we had a lot of chances. They are a team that they don’t give up much anywhere on the ice, they don’t give up much around the net,” Jets centre Adam Lowry said. “Their goalie played well. In another game, we could have scored more, but that’s how it is. It’s not easy to score. They did a good job of defending, goalie made key saves. We did a good job getting around the net and getting chances around their net.”

The Jets got off to another slow start — an issue that has plagued Winnipeg for much of the season — with the Kings opening the scoring fewer than three minutes after puck drop. What’s worse, the goal came with the Jets on the power play.

Adrian Kempe scored his team-leading 29th of the season, redirecting a Phillip Danault rebound off his skate and past Hellebuyck to put the visitors up 1-0. The goal was reviewed by the NHL’s command centre to determine whether Kempe’s skate had an illegal kicking motion, but the play was upheld.

Winnipeg tied the game a short time later, after Nikolaj Ehlers, driving up the left side of the ice, wired a wrist shot past the blocker of Petersen. The goal came just seconds after Petersen robbed Pierre-Luc Dubois on a cross-crease pass from Blake Wheeler.

The Jets would fall behind again before the period was over, owing to some sloppy play in the defensive zone.

Defenceman Dylan DeMelo, with the puck on the boards, mistimed his outlet pass, with the puck landing on the stick of Sean Durzi. Durzi tried to make a quick pass in the slot, but it was broken up, only for Anze Kopitar to be skating on the spot, eventually firing the puck past Hellebuyck’s glove.

CP Winnipeg Jets Zach Sanford and L.A. Kings Troy Stecher collide during the second period. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

“Against a team like this, the faster you play, you don’t give them time to set up their forecheck, you don’t give their D time to adjust to their forwards, don’t give time for their (first forward) to get on your Ds. It’s hard to play against teams like that, they do it over and over and over again,” Dubois said. “Even when you do get the puck, you don’t have any room, you don’t have any time because they are all over you.”

Life wouldn’t get much better for Winnipeg in the early stages of the second, with L.A. taking a 3-1 lead before the period was four minutes old.

With Wheeler in the penalty box for tripping, the Kings worked the puck to the point and a shot from Jordan Spence ended up catching the pad of Hellebuyck only to find the skate of Josh Morrissey and into the back of the net. Somewhere along the way it touched Gabriel Vilardi, who was credited for his third of the season.

That bit of misfortune seemed to spark the Jets, leading to some quality scoring chances, including a pair by Dubois. Dubois was sent in alone on a breakaway but was stopped by Petersen, and then the Jets forward was robbed again in front on the power play.

The Jets would eventually find the back of the net before the second period expired, cutting the lead to 3-2 after 40 minutes. Just as time expired on Winnipeg’s first of three straight power plays to close out the frame, Adam Lowry poked home a Ville Heinola rebound for his 11th of the season and first in five games.

A scoreless third period would seal a win for the Kings and send the Jets off on a three-day break before welcoming the lowly Detroit Red Wings to town Wednesday night.

CP Winnipeg Jets Paul Stastny checks L.A. Kings Troy Stecher during the third period. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

“At the end of the day, it’s about collecting wins and we know the situation we put ourselves in. To come out on the short end again makes that hill even steeper to climb,” Adam Lowry said. “Obviously, now every game is pretty much a must-win. We have to go on a good heater and then hope we get some help.”

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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