Jets playing for pride, douse Flames 3-1


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Connor Hellebuyck’s frustrating season is ending on a high note. Just don’t expect him to spend much time patting himself or his teammates on the back.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/04/2022 (326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Connor Hellebuyck’s frustrating season is ending on a high note. Just don’t expect him to spend much time patting himself or his teammates on the back.

The former Vezina Trophy winner was in fine form on Friday night, stopping 32 of 33 shots as Winnipeg downed Calgary 3-1 at Canada Life Centre in a rather meaningless affair for both clubs.

“It’s nice, but it doesn’t put a Band-Aid on anything. It still sucks,” Hellebuyck said of his current mindset.

The Jets have been eliminated from the playoffs, while the Flames have wrapped up the Pacific Division and will be among the Stanley Cup favourites when the postseason begins next week. In that sense, one team was playing for pride, while the other was primarily concerned about getting out of here healthy. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Winnipeg has now won three straight games, all on home ice, and improves to 38-32-11. They have outscored Colorado, Philadelphia and Calgary by a combined score of 11-2. They will complete an overall disappointing campaign on Sunday afternoon by hosting Seattle, with backup Eric Comrie expected to get the start in net.

“It’s what you ask for in this situation,” Hellebuyck said of at least trying to finish strong. “You have to put a good show on the ice, and that’s everyone’s A-games. You can’t do that when you’re cheating the game, so everyone is bringing their A-plus attitudes and it’s showing. But it is nice knowing that we can win and we’re not giving up. So that’s awesome.”

Calgary wraps up the regular-season with a stellar 50-21-11 record. The Flames opted not to rest any of their regulars, despite playing for a second straight night following an overtime loss in Minnesota on Thursday. And they started off strong, looking like a team that didn’t want to completely sleepwalk through the finale.

Matthew Tkachuk opened the scoring for the visitors just 3:19 into the game when he blocked a Brenden Dillon shot in his own end, then held off a backchecking Adam Lowry to beat Hellebuyck on a breakaway. It was one of 18 shots for the Flames in the first period, meaning Hellebuyck was tested early and often. He was certainly up for the challenge.

“I thought the goalies were good. I thought the defence was very good. And you know, entertaining hockey. I thought the fans got into it and it was exciting to be a part of,” said Hellebuyck.

The Jets got the goal back with just 13 seconds left in the frame, courtesy of a sublime passing play between Paul Stastny, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler. The captain finished it off for his 16th goal of the year, one certain to make plenty of highlight reels.

Wheeler is now up to 59 points in 64 games which, at the age of 35, represents his best points-per-game average since the 2018-19 season. This, despite missing chunks of the year first with COVID-19, and then a serious knee injury. The veteran winger started slow, with just one goal and 16 assists in his 22 games prior to getting hurt in Vancouver. Since then, he has 15 goals and 27 assists in 42 games.

Winnipeg grabbed the lead at 6:06 of of a second period they absolutely dominated. Josh Morrissey’s point shot was stopped by Calgary backup goalie Dan Vladar, but Mason Appleton pounced on the rebound for his eighth goal of the year and what proved to be the game-winner. Six of those came with the expansion Kraken, and the last two since re-joining the Jets in a trade deadline deal last month.

Winnipeg tested Vladar 19 times in the middle frame, with winger Kyle Connor having several glorious chances to add to his career-high of 46 goals and get closer to the magical 50 number. But he couldn’t find the back of the net on this night.

Dillon sealed it with a long-distance empty netter in the final minute of the third period.

Calgary appeared to reach a “let’s just get this over with” stage following the first intermission, knowing much more important hockey was just around the corner, as illustrated by the fact they were outshot 31-15 in the final 40 minutes.

“An average start, they had a couple chances but Bucky made some good saves. And then from there we poured on the shots,” said Appleton. “Anytime you put up 40 (shots) you’re usually going to like how the scoreboard looks at the end of the game. So we were happy with our effort.”

There was plenty “take it with a grain of salt” hockey to be found on the final official night of the regular-season — the Jets versus Kraken game is a make-up date from the blizzard earlier this month — including the Presidents Trophy winners in Florida getting destroyed 10-2 by the NHL’s worst team, the Montreal Canadiens.

In that sense, it’s important not to put much stock into these late-season results. The Jets weren’t nearly good enough when the games really mattered, and a few victories down the stretch don’t change the harsh reality.

Chairman and co-owner Mark Chipman did a rare interview on Friday night, appearing during the second intermission with the team’s broadcaster, TSN. He told host Sara Orlesky “you feel this heavy weight of responsibility, frankly,” for the team missing out on what he described as the “very achievable” goal of making the playoffs. But he seemingly poured cold water over the concept of a full-scale housecleaning or dramatic, reactionary moves, saying the organization doesn’t typically operate that way and will follow the lead of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to chart the course they take this off-season.

Unfortunately for the Jets, that’s going to start on Monday — a lot earlier than they had planned.

“You can’t be satisfied not making the playoffs. Especially with the group we feel we have. We feel it’s a playoff team,” said Appleton.

“Everybody’s got to be really pissed off and with a sour taste in their mouth and work their bags off all summer and then come back and hit the ground running. Find ourselves in a good spot at Christmas and then continue through the rest of the season. Eighty-two games, it’s a long stretch, there’s ups and there’s downs, but we’ve got to be consistent next year and find ourselves in the playoffs and a chance to win it.”

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.

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