Jets close disappointing season with 4-3 victory over Kraken
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The Winnipeg Jets began the year with the goal of still playing hockey in May. Sunday’s subdued, low-stakes affair against Seattle — two days after the rest of the NHL wrapped up the regular-season — certainly wasn’t what they had in mind.
Still, the club made the most of a game that had to be re-scheduled due to a mid-April blizzard, closing off an otherwise disappointing campaign with 4-3 victory over the expansion Kraken. It’s the fourth straight victory for the Jets, all on home ice. But they came too little, too late for a team that finished eight points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with a 39-32-11 record.
“We’ve been in this situation before here, and I’ve always been proud of the fact that we’ve never been a team that’s just tanked and stopped playing,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “A really tough road trip we went on, pretty sour taste coming off that — four straight losses and how we lost the games — I had no doubt we’d come in and finish the right way.”
Morgan Barron, acquired from the New York Rangers in the Andrew Copp trade last month, scored his second goal as a member of the Jets just 3:47 into the game to give the 14,443 fans at Canada Life Centre something to cheer about early. It came off a nifty give-and-go with Jansen Harkins.
Winnipeg, showing off the trademark inconsistency that became a hallmark this year, then went to sleep in the second period, surrendering three straight goals to the visitors while getting badly outshot and outplayed. Alex Wennberg, Daniel Spring and Riley Sheahan all beat backup Eric Comrie to put the locals in a foul mood.
But the Jets finished with a flourish, scoring three unanswered in the final frame to end the year on a high note.
Wheeler cut the deficit to 3-2 at 4:49, one-timing a pass from Paul Stastny right off a faceoff for his 17th of the season, and fourth in as many games. It was the 800th point of Stastny’s career, and linemate Nikolaj Ehlers made sure to quickly grab the puck as a souvenir.
“I have nothing but praise to talk about Fly, Wheels too. I think the last three games, Ehlers is two goals away from 30 and I don’t think he shot one puck. He was trying to find me every single time. Wheels same thing,” said Stastny. “I think all three of us touched it and we’re all just trying to take care of each other. It shows the unselfishness of both those guys. Playing with those two, I’ve played with some good players, had some good line combinations, but that’s up there.”
Fourth-line centre Dominic Toninato tied it at 7:16, with Barron and Harkins setting him up for his seventh of the year. And then leading scorer Kyle Connor ended the scoring with a bang, firing his team-leading 47th of the campaign at 9:05. Connor finished the year tied with Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov for fifth-overall in the NHL’s goal-scoring derby.
“I like the commitment that we had. I liked the fact that we competed right to the end,” said interim coach Dave Lowry. “I didn’t really care for the second period tonight, but I liked the third. I liked the way the guys continued to play right to the end.”
Comrie, making his 16th start of the season, stopped 27 pucks for his 10th victory.
There was no Vegas Golden Knights-type magic for first-year Seattle, who finished with the third-worst record in the NHL at 27-49-6, ahead of only Arizona and Montreal.
Adam Brooks and Logan Stanley were the lone healthy scratches, while Mark Scheifele and Cole Perfetti were out with injuries. Barron, along with defenceman Dylan Samberg, are expected to be sent down to the Manitoba Moose this week to prepare for the club’s playoff run, which begins Friday in Milwaukee.
HANDING OUT THE HARDWARE — Prior to puck drop, the Jets handed out three year-end trophies. Defenceman Brenden Dillon was given the annual Dan Snyder Memorial Award, given to the player who “best embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition.” Fellow blue-liner Josh Morrissey won the Community Service Award for his many charitable endeavours, while Connor was the runaway winner of the Three Stars Award,
BEYAK’S FINAL BROADCAST — The club also recognized long-time broadcaster Dennis Beyak, who called his final Jets game for TSN Sunday. Beyak gave an emotional pre-game speech to the players in the dressing room, reading out the starting lineup, then was the subject of several in-game tributes including a standing ovation from fans. He also addressed the masses following the game, thanking True North and the community for making his time in Winnipeg so special.
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.